An American Gothic Cheese Jaunt

IMG_5333There are two main things that compel me to create art. One is my inner impetus that becomes obsessed with something, mostly an emotion or a psychological condition, in  that I just have to figure it out thus exploring it through the medium of creation. Or, I have this stunningly poignant experience or vision of something existential in life that I feel if I don’t articulate it no one else will ever see it, know it or feel it so I wish to recreate and convey it to others.

On my path of foodie adventures, I oftentimes also look for that one of a kind thing that can not be replicated and I found one of these gems recently in Santa Rosa while winery touring.

 IMG_5336I am used to being led down the strange and random path by the Cute Gardener who is also ravenous for unique discoveries. So it was no surprise when we made a sudden right hand tour through a field of yellowing brush and choppy green grass towards a farm in the middle of nowhere off of a Santa Rosa highway on a recent morning. It was still early enough for dew to be glistening like crystal on the blades of grass beneath a stark silvery white sun and within a minute we were bouncing up a dirt road past a pasture of wakening cows, their dusty mouths filled with twiggy breakfast. Met by a huge barn and a small home converted into what looked like a shop, we parked the car and the CG told me we were at the Joe Matos Cheese Factory.

I didn’t know if we were about to be pitch-forked ourselves and turned into a nice California milk variety (we certainly had been stoked with enough fat already to turn into cream with enough churning of our flesh while on our food and wine trip) or if there was actually a way to buy cheese at this place. The old man puttering in the barn waved a hello to us and then turned promptly back to his work offering no other communication.


We entered into the small building that we thought was the shop and a loud alarm went off to alert someone somewhere that we were there. A dark and tiny office greeted us with a deli case, bare save for one huge fat wheel of cheese and a small knife next to it. I could see behind the counter into the back storage room, which was dank and dry and lined with shelves also full of rounds of cheese.

Just as I was peering over the counter at the piece of notebook paper that was handwritten with notes amounting to a weight and a price of what was bought throughout the day, a short gray haired lady looking weathered and hearty like her land appeared from out of nowhere, startling me. She seemed Greek or something similar and said nary a word to us at all as she methodically sliced us each a generous piece of the cheese. It was absolutely delicious, or as the CG remarked, probably more experientially delicious due to the authentic locale and the strange American Gothic-ness of the scene, enveloped by the scent of cow patties. We used our fingers to show the woman how much we would like to buy after discerning that her English was not that great and received a half pound slice for about three bucks, quite a deal for two people used to shelling out more for cheese at the major grocery stores.

As we left and trekked back out to the main highway, I realized the little jaunt had become a highlight of my trip. We had the cheese over the course of the next few days, used to sop up wine between tasting rooms, and it remained scrumptious in our little cooler through heat and cold and the accompanying textural changes.

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