Butter, cheese: Bivalve Dairy spreads out

David Briggs
John and Karen Taylor spoke about their new butter and cheeses at last weekend's farmers market.  

The owners of Bivalve Dairy brought the first batch of their new cheeses to the Point Reyes Farmers Market this month. They nearly sold out.  

“I had never made cheese before: It’s amazing what you will do to save your family’s farm,” said Karen Bianchini Taylor, a sixth-generation rancher whose parents, William and Sharon Bianchini, started the operation in 1973. 

Ms. Taylor and her husband, John, left their jobs in the East Bay in 2005 to take over the farm–which is two miles north of Point Reyes Station–from her mother. They quickly went organic, and have since supplied milk to Clover Sonoma and to Cowgirl Creamery for its Red Hawk cheese. 

Creating their own product was a long-held dream for the Taylors—and one they say is vital to their bottom line. Slightly ahead of the curve, the Taylors couldn’t keep up with demand when they first received their organic certification. But organic milk prices have dropped in recent years, as more and more farms have converted their operations, leading to a glut in the market.

“Value-added products are a huge upfront investment, but if we hadn’t decided to start the creamery we would have gone out of business by now,” Mr. Taylor said. “Some processors don’t like it because it takes away their control, but we think this is a good model for the farmers.”

The Taylors signed a lease last August on a creamery facility in Petaluma and have since brought on a cheesemaker to round out their staff of nine. They cut into their first wheel of cheese on March 15, which is Ms. Taylor’s birthday and the same day her parents purchased their first 160 cows decades earlier.

Two weeks ago, the Taylors brought three products to the Point Reyes Farmers Market: European-style cultured butter, a fresh cheese spread, and a raw, aged hard cheese—all organic. 

The products complement one another in their production timelines: the hard cheese ages between six months and a year, the fresh cheese can be produced weekly, and the butter, which freezes easily, can absorb any surplus milk. Once their cream separator is up and running, they plan to make an Alpine-style cheese such as parmesan.

The local market is the only place to find the cheese and butter right now, though the Taylors plan to start selling to Tomales Bay Foods, the Palace Market and Whole Foods. They weren’t sure how the fresh cheese would fair at the outdoor market, but it was the first to sell out, by 11 a.m. 

“[The fresh cheese has] started to replace everything white in the fridge,” Ms. Taylor said. “We’ve put it in our crepes, on our bagels, mixed it with pesto, on tacos, enchiladas, polenta, lasagna… cheesecake. I’m a busy mom, and it’s good to have around when I forget something at the grocery store.”

Ms. Taylor, whose family hails from the Azores off the coast of Portugal, said they have tried to mimic the tastes of  the cheeses produced in that region. “If we were in the Central Valley, we couldn’t produce these kinds of flavors,” she said. “It’s the influence of the salt air on the grass.” 

The Taylors named the hard cheese “Mendonza,” the original spelling of Ms. Taylor’s family name, Mendoza, before it was changed in the United States. Her grandparents were Joe and Scotty Mendoza, four of whose grandchildren are still dairy ranching in West Marin.

Experimenting with flavors and additions to the butter, and uses for the cheese, is a family affair. Ms. Taylor, who previously taught junior high, manages the farm operations. Mr. Taylor, an industrial engineer who worked for General Electric, wears many hats, including outfitting the ranch with the newest technologies. The couple’s three children, the oldest of whom just graduated from Tomales High, put in hours at the ranch and serve as ongoing taste-testers. 

Keeping the farm alive for the generations to come is their primary mission, Ms. Taylor said. She also believes there is room in the local market for other ranchers in West Marin to explore making their own products. Collaboration and support within the ranching community is paramount, she added. 

Last year, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust purchased a conservation easement on the Taylors' 705-acre home ranch for $3,590,000, aided by $1,817,950 in Measure A funds.