ST PAT Volume 1 #10 Seasonal Cheeses for Spring!

World Cheese Encyclopaedia - Each Sunday learn all about a cheese in season.

This week St Pat from the USA. 

Country: USA 🇺🇸

Region: Petaluma, California

Made from: Cow 's Milk 

Pasteurised: Yes

Rind: Bloomy, wrapped in nettle leaf

Texture: Soft

Taste: light, smoky, artichoke

Certification: No

Aging: 4 weeks

An American cheese, hailing from Marin County, California, this is one of the best springtime cow's milk cheeses available. 

St Pat, has a distinctive green rind that commemorates the arrival of spring in Marin County. Made with organic Holstein milk from John and Karen Taylor’s Bivalve Dairy, these rich, creamy wheels are wrapped in wild nettle leaves harvested by Paradise Valley Farm in Bolinas which give a bright green spring color to the outside of the cheese. 

The nettle leaves, which are frozen to remove the sting, impart a light, smoky artichoke flavor. The resulting cheese is mellow, soft and full of flavor.

The cheese is a gold medal winner of North American Jersey Cheese Competition in 2009.


Cowgirl Creamery founders, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith (from Maryland and Virginia, respectively, both University of Tennessee alums, set out for the West Coast upon graduation and haven’t looked back. From their arrival in 1976 and into the 1990s, they built careers in two pillars of the Bay Area food world: Smith as a cook and manager at Berkeley’s legendary Chez Panisse and Conley as a co-owner of Bette’s Oceanview Diner, also in Berkeley.

In 1989, after 11 years at the diner, Conley moved north to Point Reyes in search of a slower pace. She immersed herself in the area’s budding organic farming scene and started building relationships that led her to found Tomales Bay Foods—the food marketing and distribution arm of Cowgirl Creamery—in 1994.

Just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, Marin and Sonoma counties have long been cow country. Dairying was an early economic engine in the area during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. In the 1860s the windswept Point Reyes peninsula was the country’s top dairy region, providing booming San Francisco with milk, butter, and cheese, according to the California Milk Advisory Board. The climate is damp and mild—perfect for pasture and, in turn, grass-munching animals. “If there isn’t rain, there’s fog,” Conley says. 

Over the years, though, as California continued to establish itself as one of the country’s leaders in milk and cheese production, smaller grass-based outfits struggled to compete with the mega-dairies, often with thousands of cows, that started dotting the state. 

When Conley moved to Northern California, fluid milk prices were plummeting and small-scale farms in the region were in peril, says Janet Fletcher, writer and publisher of the newsletter Planet Cheese. “Sue Conley saw these dairy farms struggling and wanted to find a way to make them more viable,” Fletcher says.

Some of the first people Conley encountered in Marin were Bill and Ellen Straus, who had been farming in Marshall on the northeast shore of Tomales Bay since the 1940s. Their eldest son, Albert, was transitioning the farm to organic, and Conley helped him find buyers for the farm’s newly certified milk. A few years later, Conley and the Strauses went into business together. In 1996, Peggy Smith joined Conley in Point Reyes to renovate the barn that now houses Cowgirl Creamery, and in 1997 the duo began using Straus Family Creamery milk to make Mt. Tam, the decadent cheese that put them on the map.

Twenty years later, the creamery keeps growing—and partnering with neighbors to protect and promote local agriculture. In 2007, Smith and Conley met John Taverna, a Petaluma farmer who had recently transformed his Chileno Valley Jersey Dairy to an organic operation. When the recession hit, Taverna couldn’t find customers willing to pay the higher prices for his new products, so a relative called Cowgirl Creamery on his behalf with the hopes that Conley and Smith might purchase the milk. They agreed.

“Since the milk was 100 percent Jersey and the cows were 100 percent pastured, we decided to use it in our seasonal cheeses to see how the flavors changed over the course of the year,” Conley says. In spring, the cows eat plenty of fast-growing grass and produce a glut of milk, explains Patterson, the cheesemaker. However, during this rainy season the grass is full of water and less nutrient-dense, resulting in milk that is lighter and more buoyant, with fewer fat particles and other solids.

It’s the ideal milk for making St Pat (named for St. Patrick’s Day, which falls around the time of year the cheese is released), Patterson says. With less fat to weigh down the milk, it acidifies more easily than the richer summer and winter milks. “The curds behave well,” says Patterson, meaning that milk proteins come together to make a tight curd that maintains its structure in the vat. When curds are cut, that structure allows the whey to separate cleanly and consistently from the curds. This bodes well for the final moisture level and texture of the cheese, making for a light, fluffy paste. The milk’s acidity also affects St Pat’s flavor. “It has a lemony brightness you don’t taste in the fall and winter cheeses,” Patterson says.

Once the curds are formed, brined, and aged for 12 to 14 days, St Pat’s exterior is sprayed with Essensia from California’s Quady Winery. The dessert wine, made from muscat grapes, lends a touch of sweetness to the cheese and helps adhere the nettles to the rind. Cheesemakers then apply the leaves directly to the cheese’s surface, wrap it for sale, and send it to a walk-in cooler for another two to four weeks, where it starts developing the nuanced flavors it’s known for, Patterson says. St Pat is a friendly cheese—buttery with vegetal, pleasantly bitter notes from the nettles. It’s also visually striking, with a snow-white bloomy rind peeking through the deep-green leaves wrapped around its exterior.

How to enjoy it

Sparkling wines and dry whites are your best match for this unique cheese.

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