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St. George

Joe and Mary Matos are from the Azores island. Sao Jorge, off the coast of Portugal. While Mary was born in the United States, Joe, who came from a cheesemaking family, immigrated much later. The couple married and called Santa Rosa, California, home. There is a fairly substantial Portugese community in this city, about 50 miles north of San Francisco, and since Joe had cows and knew how to make the cheese from "home," he saw that cheesemaking might be a means to make a living. Thus was born the cheese from his home island, Sao George.

St. George, which is modeled after its Portugese counterpart, Sao Jorge, is a heat-treated raw milk, semi-hard cheese. It is a so-called stirred curd cheese, which means the curds are gently stirred entirely by hand before they are salted and scooped into molds. The cheeses are then pressed with presses fashioned from cinderblocks, before they are placed on the aging shelves for anywhere between four and nine months, becoming drier and sharper over time.

The paste or interior of the cheese is a golden yellow color with small "eyes," and the flavor of the cheese can be described as a cross between cheddar and Monterey Jack. It is ever-so-slightly sharp yet mellow and creamy. It is a little grassy and earthy, and it is also slightly tangy with a lovely fresh milk flavor. This extraordinary cheese goes equally well on a cheese board as it does on a grilled cheese sandwich.

A visit to the "factory," (more like a large shed) is a step back in time. No fancy machinery, no precise climate-control systems other than the thick walls serving to keep a constant temperature, just rows of shelves lined with wheels of cheese. Many of the cheeses have names on them to identify the customer for whom that particular cheese is being aged.

If you want to try the cheese, you can call the Matos' but don't bother getting out your credit card. Instead, plan to write down their address so that you can send a check or cash. They have never taken credit cards, and even though their daughter, Sylvia, now runs the show, she says there still are no plans to change their system.

Part of the glory of such a system is not only that it keeps the prices low - the cheese currently sells for $5.50 a pound at the farm (a steal for an artisan cheese of this quality and relatively limited availability) - but it also retains a bit of old country charm by using old-fashioned trust and building friendships as a result.

Location:
3669 Llano Rd.
Santa Rosa, CA 95407
(707) 584-5283