Over the holidays, we visited some friends in Santa Rosa and made a stop at Joe Matos’ Cheese Factory, at the Matos farm near Sebastopol. Before going there, I checked the Yelp reviews; they were uniformly positive about the cheese, which comes from a recipe that Joe Matos–a fifth generation family cheese maker–brought to the U.S. from the island of St. George in the Azores islands. It’s the only cheese that this family farm produces and its price hasn’t changed since at least 2010, when it was listed at $7/lb. (if you buy it at the farm).
Yelpers call the farm “humble,” “cute,” and “bare bones.” I was a little worried about references to a bad odor, and one review that mentioned “scary dead trees …a small parking lot filled with about 30 cats and a classic junk yard dog.” But we decided to give it a try, anyway.
And actually, it was a little scary-looking, as the dirt drive went past some smelly cows, a large, dead tree (perfect prop for a horror movie), and led up to a decrepit barn littered with refuse. One very happy, messy black cat crouched in front of the barn, finishing off the remains of a Christmas turkey carcass; and the (one) dog was right there, checking us out.
The cheese room was certainly “humble.” Not much has been done to make it look pretty for visitors. The inside is cold, and somewhat unwelcoming — but in a dark room behind the counter, we could see many shelves filled with wheels of cheese.
And the cheese was good–in fact, damn good. A semi-hard cheese with a warm, nutty flavor, Matos (to me) strongly resembles a stiff Havarti with a cheddary undertone. And the price was indeed only $7/lb. In fact, Joe Matos’ cheese is featured in Max McCalman & David Gibbons’ celebrated guide, Cheese: a Connoissur’s Guide to the World’s Best. They write that “it has a full, buttery, cream flavor with a firm texture. With age it becomes more tangy and crumbly.”
We took home a pound and a half of cheese, and used it in a lot of dishes including grilled cheese sandwiches and the cheese and spinach omelet below. But it’s also just great with crackers. If you don’t mind paying dollar a pound more, Matos will deliver the cheese to your front door — so you don’t have any excuses for not trying this!
My advice is: don’t worry so much about the aesthetics of the place — keep your eye on the cheese.
Matos Cheese Factory
3669 Llano Rd
Santa Rosa, CA 95407