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Best New Local Cheese San Francisco 2011 - Nicasio Valley Cheese Co.'s Nicasio Square

Although the Lafranchi family has been raising dairy cattle on the West Marin hills for more than 80 years, it has been selling cheese — certified organic, farmstead cheese — for only a little more than a year. The Lafranchis traveled back to their ancestral home, the Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland, and persuaded a local cheesemaker to teach them to make styles traditional to the region. Their full line includes the Foggy Morning, a creamy fresh cheese with a subtle tang, and the Formagella, an extremely mild, Chaource-like wheel with a bloomy rind. But their best, and most distinctive, offering is the Nicasio Square. The washed-rind cheese resembles a Taleggio in its shape, reddish rind, and that ripe, rolling aroma. Eat a hunk straight off the knife and you'll notice a subtle tang; smear it on a warm piece of toasted bread, and that yeasty, barnyard smell fills the nose. Yet it's a stinky cheese that won't overpower, and underneath the funk you can still taste the sweet cream it's made from.

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