Basque-Style Sheep's Milk Cheese In Tomales Bay

Barinaga Ranch's new sheep's-milk cheese

When you're making cheese from sheep's milk, it helps to have shepherds in your family lineage.

Ewes are famously unproductive, but Marcia Barinaga, the owner and cheesemaker of Barinaga Ranch in Tomales Bay, comes from a family of Basque shepherds and still has cheesemaking cousins near Bilbao.

Barinaga, who holds a doctorate in biology and was once a reporter for Science Magazine, consulted with family in Spain before producing her first cheeses last year: Basseri, a Tomme whose name means "farmhouse" in Basque, and a smaller version, Txiki, meaning "little." With the sweet-hay scent and piquancy of an Ossau-Iraty or an unsmoked Idiazábal, both taste that much fresher for coming from so nearby.

Because of the seasonal nature of ewe's milk, the two cheeses are available only from June to December.

Thankfully, in a few weeks, Barinaga will release her first aged cheeses, which have been airing on her Marin ranch for six months. You can find them at Cowgirl Creamery, The Pasta Shop and Rainbow Grocery, and on the menu at Osteria Stellina in Point Reyes Station and Ame, Quince and Piperade in San Francisco.

Young or old, there are now even more exceptional reasons to follow the flock.