Situated among bread and baked goods vendors, the Santa Barbara Cheese Company is hard to overlook. Bread and cheese go together, after all.
On its first month at the , the cheese maker is wasting no time in making its presence known.
Samples were abundant but not overwhelmingly so. “My sister-in-law just started cheese-making last year,” said Karina Marin, who was tending to the booth.
The cheese maker
Marin's sister-in-law, Sara Hoekstra, grew up surrounded by cows her entire childhood. After a corporate stint working in her older brother’s company, she decided it was time to move back to the countryside.
Armed with a business degree and hands-on dairy experience, Hoekstra was ready to embrace first-time entrepreneurship. “She took classes and did extensive research on cheese-making,” said Marin.
Hoekstra did not have to look far for inspiration. The company logo was inspired by her memories of getting milk from a dairy farm as a little girl.
“She was really keen on making artisan cheese using natural, hormone-free cow’s milk,” said Marin of her sister-in-law’s vision. “She wanted to produce them in small batches.”
Three types of handcrafted cheese have resulted from Hoekstra’s perseverance, all with deep and complex flavors much sought after by cheese lovers all over.
The Montecito, aged for at least 60 days is the most popular, according to Marin.
“It’s sweet and nutty,” she said of the Gouda-style cheese, paired best with a Chardonnay or a Riesling.
“You can just serve it on a cheese platter or add it to any baked dish,” said Marin.
For Diana Goldman, the Santa Ynez or white cheddar cheese was the most appealing. “It has a nice finish,” she said.
Goldman’s taste varies. “I buy whatever appeals to me at the moment,” said the West Hills resident. “Today, it was the white cheddar.”
Aged for 90 days, the Santa Ynez is considered nutty and earthy. Shredded or sliced, it pairs well with Champagne, a pinot gris or fruits like peaches and grapes.
Yvonne Myerly was looking for something creamy and salty, and found it in the Santa Rosa or queso fresco.
“It’s my first time to try a cheese like this,” she said. “I’ll definitely be back for more.”
According to Marin, the crumbly queso fresco is perfect for salads, soups and Mexican dishes, or eaten as is.
Priced at $5-10 per pound, the three cheese varieties were selling briskly, much to Marin’s surprise. “We hope to be back with more flavors next time,” she said.
Hoekstra hopes to come up with more varieties of sharp and aged cheese in the next few months. Two experimental flavors are in limited supply: crushed red chilies and garlic & black pepper.
“We also want to get into grocery stores and other retail outlets,” said Marin, describing their distribution strategy.
Aside from Calabasas, the Santa Barbara Cheese Company is at the Brentwood and Goleta farmers markets on Sundays. Online ordering is also available.
The Calabasas Farmers Market is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday at 23504 Calabasas Road, across the street from the Sagebrush Cantina.