California Cheese Crawl 2019: Fiscalini Cheese Company, Modesto

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Fiscalini Cheese
Fiscalini’s cheese plant in Modesto, California

Before coming to California for this Cheese Crawl, I was already enamored with Fiscalini’s cheeses, most notably their award-winning bandage-wrapped cheddar. It’s the cheese I keep praying will be available in Manila soon. I would probably be one of the first in line to buy it, and I would probably be that girl urging everyone else to do the same.

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Laura Fiscalini with Chef Joe Baird from the California Milk Advisory Board

I didn’t imagine I would love Fiscalini any more than I already do, but apparently it’s possible. Our visit to their family-owned farmstead was an eye-opener, to say the least. We were received by no less than Laura Fiscalini, a fourth generation Fiscalini who now manages most of the day-to-day operations of the company. Before starting the tour of their cheese plant, we were introduced to what the Fiscalini brand stood for and how it all ties in with the cheeses they make.

Happy cows equals good milk equals fabulous cheese.

Fiscalini do all their cheese-making in-house, beginning with the milk they use to make their award-winning cheeses. The milk comes from their own cows located in their own dairy a mere 30 minutes away from their cheese plant. The Fiscalini family actually started out with a dairy farm in 1914 before deciding to venture into cheese-making in the early 2000s, so it’s fair to say they have some pretty extensive knowledge about how to keep cows healthy and happy.

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Fiscalini uses the milk of their own cows to make their cheese.

For the longest time, Fiscalini has been committed to taking good care of their cows because they believe that only a happy cow can produce the best milk. And of course, the best milk can only create the best cheese. From the cows’ rotating diets (which comes from feeds they plant on their own!), to keeping them in a comfortable environment where they are free to roam but protected from the elements, Fiscalini has pulled out all the stops. Not only is this for the benefit of the cows, but the thought that their milk is of the freshest quality also helps the company’s confidence and peace of mind.

Artisan, small-batch, and all-natural.

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At the “Aging Room” of Fiscalini’s cheese plant

We were taken through the Fiscalini cheese-making facility, which is a lot smaller than you may imagine. Despite much success, Fiscalini prefers to keep things in a scale that’s easier to manage, because they want to maintain the artisan quality of their cheeses. They make their cheese by hand and use procedures that require people rather than machines to do most of the work. Smaller scale production also means they can be more stringent with quality control. This was explained to us by Alex Borgo, the Head Cheesemaker at Fiscalini.

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Alex Borgo, Head Cheesemaker, telling us about their cheese-making process.

He walked us through the different rooms in their cheese plant and talked a little bit about the traditional and modern methods they use to make their cheeses. I was most amazed by the “Turning Room”, where rows of large cheese rounds are arranged on shelves with metal handles sticking out. These handles are what they use to manually turn the cheeses everyday for two months before they are moved to another room to get aged. That’s some literal heavy lifting! The cheeses are then aged for 14 to 17 months in another aging room with even taller shelves.

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In Fiscalini’s “Turning Room”

Another favorite room of mine? The heavenly smelling smoked cheese room. At first, the power of all these smoked cheeses in one room hits you in the face when you enter. But the more time you spend in here, the more your mouth starts to water because you can almost imagine the taste of them in your mouth. Imagine running away with one of these smoked cheese wheels. You’d get sniffed out in a second lol. Jokes aside, through all the rooms we got to see, there was one thing that was clear to me: Cheese-making for Fiscalini is definitely an art form.

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Smoked cheese as far as the eyes can see.

The taste is the proof.

After getting a tour of the cheese plant, we were able to taste some more cheeses from the Fiscalini lineup. I’ve already mentioned a bunch of times what my favorite is, but I was nonetheless delighted by everything they let us try. One does not turn down the opportunity to gorge oneself with award-winning cheese! Aside from the Bandage Wrapped Cheddar, there was the Swiss-style Lionza, the Italian-style San Joaquin Gold, some amazing Smoked Cheddar, the beautifully-colored wine-soaked Purple Moon Cheddar, and even their CA Craft Beer Cheddar infused with a local stout.

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A tasting plate of Fiscalini’s best.

Everything tastes as good as they sound, and the memory only makes me pray harder that they will bring this brand to the Philippines. You can check out their entire cheese lineup on their website, complete with suggested pairings.

Sustainability is part of their identity.

More than the cheese, Fiscalini left us with something more to chew on. I was amazed to find out that back in 2009, they actually built a methane digester right here on their farmland. All the livestock manure, whey discards from the cheese plant, as well as any feed waste and green waste, are pumped into two large tanks that break them down to produce methane. This methane is then piped into a combustion engine that converts it into electricity and heat.

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Cheese rounds are aged for a long long time.

Basically, Fiscalini produces their own electricity to power their cheese plant, and they also use it to heat the water they use to clean their milking barns. After that there is still enough energy left to power over 300 homes, so this portion is what they sell back to the Modesto Irrigation District. This level of self-sustainment is pretty impressive, and even more impressive is that they would think of all these ways to ensure that the environment is as well cared for as their cows and cheeses.

But wait, there’s more!

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The “Aging Room” filled with bandage-wrapped cheddar

Fiscalini is not just an environment-conscious company that churns out great cheese, they also support 30 employee families with their business. Even the sons and daughters of their employees are welcome to join the Fiscalini family should they choose to. The closeness of all the people working in Fiscalini is a fact that Laura highlighted when she was telling us about the company.

I also want to mention that Fiscalini is proud about being a Validus accredited farm. Validus is an independent auditing agency that has deemed Fiscalini to pass their strict qualifications for animal welfare, environmental compliance, plus food safety and sanitation. They are the first farm in the US to receive this honor.

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Pepe Samson and I feeling happy and amazed to be here. (Thanks for these pics, Pepe!)

It was incredible to get a behind the scenes look at the company behind one of my favorite cheeses in the world. Not only did we eat so much cheese and have a blast on the tour, we also learned so much. It’s not enough that you can make great products people enjoy, it’s also important to be conscious of how you can affect the environment in a positive manner as you go along your way. I just have such mad respect for what Fiscalini is doing here, and as the first place we stopped by for our California Cheese Crawl, all I can say is: It was an amazing start. 

Read more about FISCALINI CHEESE COMPANY on their website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Instagram! Here’s a great video to help you see the fascinating way Fiscalini makes their cheeses:

Full disclosure: This trip was part of the California Cheese Crawl organized by the California Milk Advisory Board. Facts and figures have been taken from the company’s website, but all opinions stated above are my own.

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