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How to Pair Goat Cheeses with Apples

How to Pair Goat Cheeses with Apples

Erika Scharfen only ever wanted to be a dairy farmer. Growing up in California’s Sonoma County, she milked cows at her mother’s family’s farm. She wrote a high school paper on the thermal transfer in the bulk tanks of dairy cooling systems, and at University of California at Davis in the early 2000s, she specialized in dairy and livestock production. There, she fell in love with goats. “They have everything I love in dairy cows but so much more personality,” says Scharfen. “They want you to scratch them behind the ears like cows, but then they head butt each other, open gates, and cause mischief. They’re like puppy dogs with udders.”

Today, Scharfen co-owns the hybrid operation Pennyroyal Farm in the Anderson Valley, the winemaking region of Mendocino County. Her business partner Sarah Cahn Bennett grows the grapes and vinifies wines; Scharfen raises 100 Nubian, Alpine, La Mancha, and cross-bred goats and 30 Panama–East Fresian cross-bred sheep and makes cheeses from their milk.

I have often come to the Anderson Valley for its cherry-bright Pinot Noirs. But before Northern California became wine country, other agriculture dominated. Pennyroyal represents a dairy farming tradition that was strong in Sonoma. There, and in Mendocino, fruit orchards flourished, too. On this trip, I was staying at one of the Anderson Valley’s last two remaining orchards, The Apple Farm, that the original owners of The French Laundry, Sally and Don Schmitt, bought in 1984, retreating here after they sold their Napa restaurant to Thomas Keller a decade later. Today farmed by the Schmitts’ daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Tim Bates, with their daughter Rita and son-in-law Jerzy, this inn, cooking school, and orchard produces over 100 varieties of apples that are sold fresh, milled into chutneys and jams, and pressed into juice and hard ciders. “In the 1930s, ’40s and ‘50s, the area had a thousand acres of apples and just a couple hundred acres of vineyards,” Tim Bates told me. The farm boasts 114-year-old trees. 


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