Artisan cheese in the foothills: Dedrick’s, Wheyward Girl, Shaft’s

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA HAS A storied cheese making history. Marin’s historic Rouge & Noire cheese company, now Marin French Cheese, has roots that go back 150 years. In the 1930s Gaetano Vella started Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma at the urging of local dairymen. And in the ‘90s, longtime friends Sue Conley and Peggy Smith founded Cowgirl Creamery after leading established careers at Chez Panisse and Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley.

The foothills is an up-and-coming cheese making region. Our cheese makers include Shaft’s Cheese Company in Roseville, founded in 1999. Shaft’s creates superb blue cheeses, served at Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay, the Six Peaks Grille at the Resort at Squaw Creek and top restaurants in San Francisco and New York.

Jollity Farm makes fresh cheeses (chèvre and feta) from goat’s milk at its farm in Garden Valley (El Dorado County).

The foothills also are home to Dedrick’s Cheese in Placerville, with satellite stores at Tess’ Kitchen Store in Grass Valley, and in Truckee, Homewood and South Lake Tahoe. Dedrick’s also is present at the weekly farmers markets in Truckee, Grass Valley and Nevada City, among other places.

Dedrick’s is not a cheese maker. Rather, owner Mary Dedrick has a selection of more than 200 cheeses and specialty foods from around the world. She is a cheese expert and judge at prestigious cheese making competitions, including the California State Fair, alongside Sacramento gourmand-grocer Darrel Corti and others.

Her cheese case at Tess’ Kitchen Store is one of our favorites, and it includes Humbolt Fog, Vella Dry Monterey Jack, Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper (a vegetarian cheese); Bucherondin (French goat cheese); and Red Dragon (Welsh pub cheese with brown ale and mustard seed). The selection also includes artisan crackers, salami and other cured meats.

Now a new cheese maker with experienced owners is coming to the foothills. Wheyward Girl Creamery opened this summer in historic downtown Nevada City, making it the first commercial cheese maker in Nevada County.

“I started making cheese about 10 or 15 years ago, and I want to share my knowledge,” says Barbara Jenness, a master certified cheese maker at Wheyward Girl Creamery. Barbara owned Dancing Goat Creamery in West Michigan, which made award-winning cheeses.

Wheyward Girl is next door to Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co. on lower Commercial Street. “We are excited about Wheyward Girl coming next door, helping us to make things more local and more sustainable,” says Three Forks co-owner Shana Maziarz.

(Photo: T. Depaepe)

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