Named for the wild pennyroyal mint flowers that carpet the meadows of their farm, Pennyroyal Farmstead is a fairly new cheesemaking operation, locating in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, California, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco, on the sixty acres of Navarro Winery. Sustainability is a high priority for the farm, with electricity supplied by solar panels, waste reclaimed for agricultural applications and an army of miniature sheep keeping the lawns mowed. The goats, in their daily foraging, wend their way through the vines and help keep the weeds at bay.
They’ve been a sheep farm for over 25 years, but the goats only arrived five years ago, and the cheesemaking began in earnest after that, with the first cheeses making it to market only in the spring of 2012. The cheesemaking is still small-scale, with the daily makes happening in a 50-gallon vat, working primarily with goat’s milk but also doing mixed-milk sheep and goat’s milk cheeses as seasonality permits.
I first heard about their cheeses when Kirstin Jackson raved about their Boont Corners cheese on her It’s Not You, It’s Brie blog. I contacted them to inquire about availability on the East Coast; the bad news was that they are not currently available on this side of the country, but the good news (for me) was that they were happy to send me a sample box to try their cheeses! California readers should keep an eye out for them (and see the end of this post for details about their Farm To Table mail order program).
The first cheese I tried was Laychee, a fresh cheese that is made with goat and sheep while the sheep are still milking, but goes to pure goat later on. This is a mild, bright, milky cheese, in the vein of a queso fresco or fromage blanc, with a creamy, lightly grainy texture and a wonderful cottage-cheesey flavor to it. This would make a great breakfast cheese, with fresh fruit or in a crepe, or as a bruschetta topper with honey.
The next cheese was the Bollie’s Mollies, a lactic bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese. The rind is the dusty blue-gray color of a Selles-Sur-Cher, but the cheese itself is firmer, a soft but not runny creamline surrounding a firm, fudgy center. This is a mild, salty cheese with a smooth mouthfeel, a little bit musty in aroma, with subtle goaty and grassy notes.
After that was the Boont Corners, which came in three varieties: Two-Month Tomme, Vintage Tomme (aged four to six months) and the Reserve Tomme, which is aged over six months, and in this case was a mixed-milk raw sheep and goat’s milk cheese (although I’m not sure if it’s always mixed milk). All three were aged in a thin paper layer that covers the rind to protect the interior and control moisture loss.
The Two-month had a stony, textured tan rind, and an ivory, moist paste, moderately eyed. The flavor was mild, milky and salty, a little bit tangy, with gamey and herbaceous notes.
The Vintage tomme, although in theory just an older Boont, had a different rind from the Two-month, smoother, with less irregularity and texture. The paste as well was smoother, with fewer eyes and a creamy, denser, dryer texture. The flavory was more developed and multilayered, a bit saltier, the tanginess of the two-month aged out, with wonderful subtle smokey and meaty notes and a mellow finish.
The Reserve Tomme, with the addition of Sheep’s milk, resembled a good pecorino, with a rind similar to the Two-month Boont but a paste that was golden colored, moderately eyed, and with a harder, dryer, crumbly texture, with trademark hints of buttery oil from the sheep’s milk. The flavor was salty, rich and nutty, with caramel, lanolin and grassy notes.
All of the cheeses I tried from Boont were great, with the Vintage Tomme being the real standout. Unfortunately, as noted, they’re not available on the East Coast, but Pennyroyal has a “Farm To Table” mail order program that you can subscribe to, which entitles you to a shipment of three seasonal cheeses, five times a year. Learn more at www.pennyroyalfarm.com/table/.