This sign greets visitors at Bohemian Creamery in Sebastopol. (Alix Wall)
When driving along Sebastopol’s Occidental Road, you may see a funny sign: “Got Cheese? Got Fro-Yo? Got Goats?” While the goats aren’t for sale, the cheese and the frozen yogurt most certainly are, along with whey sodas and soap made from the milk of those very same goats in the back.
After her cheeses made it onto the lists of some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants, owner Lisa Gottreich has opened a Bohemian Creamery storefront that’s open on weekends to sell more of her products.
While it’s possible to find her cheeses at some upscale groceries and cheese shops around the Bay Area, it takes some sleuthing; it was difficult for her to break into more of them because of the highly perishable nature of her product.
“The whole reason for opening the storefront was that I couldn’t get into more retail because there’s such a high mark-up for perishable goods,” she said. “They don’t have the economy of scale, so they mark it up to prohibitive prices, so that no one can afford to buy it,” she said.
Gottreich’s cheeses, made with milk from goats, cows, sheep and water buffalo (only the goats are hers) are the very definition of artisanal. They are handcrafted with names like "Boho Belle," "BoDacious" and "the Bomb" (though they don’t all start with B). "Surf and Turf" has a thin layer of dulse seaweed through its center and "Cowabunga" has a layer of goats’ milk cajeta (caramel). And if you haven’t been lucky enough to taste them, they are indeed the bomb.
While selling more cheese was of course a motivating factor, Gottreich said another reason was to introduce products she makes with the milk from her goats.
“I wanted to show people what you can do with goats’ milk that I can’t always show my restaurant chefs,” she said. “I’m making soap. I’m making sodas with whey that I carbonate and sell on the spot.”
During the summer months, the sodas were a huge seller.
“There’s no fat in them, and the whey is full of vitamin B and probiotics,” she said. “They’ve been drinking them in Europe for a long time in places like Iceland and Scandinavia.” Gottreich makes a shrub from local elderberries or Meyer lemons which gives the soda a touch of sweetness.
Her frozen yogurt is definitely worth seeking out, not because it tastes specifically goat-y, but because of her unique flavors.
“I don’t use any stabilizers or emulsifiers, and the fat level is so low,” she said. “I double-strain the yogurt so it’s smooth and nice on the palate.”
Finding just the right culture that would result in a thick yogurt was challenging, but “it’s pretty rich once I get it right,” she said. Her flavors include cocoa with orange blossom, elderberry, cardamom, ginger, cajeta, and Meyer lemon. (Note: she only has one flavor at a time; it’s left to chance what flavor you’ll find when you visit.)
And then there’s the soap. She decided to make it almost as an afterthought, but the amount of it she’s selling has surprised even her.
A Marin native, Gottreich spent her junior year abroad from UC Santa Cruz in Padua, Italy, where she believes her palate for cheese began developing (though her mother is Swedish, she feels some of it is innate).
Largely self-taught, Gottreich has a repertoire of 12 cheeses, which she says are distinguished by being mostly Italian in style, meaning they are not as salty as some other European varieties.
“It’s maybe the third or fourth flavor you get,” she explained. “I like tasting the animal and milk and cultures and then salt, not as the first or second flavor. That might be the most obvious uniting characteristic of all my cheeses.”
Her cheeses were praised and served at some of the area’s top restaurants quite soon after she started. Gottreich began her business in 2008 when a divorce caused her to rethink her career, saying “I wanted to do something that brought myself and others joy." A milestone was reached when she got word that a local catering company had served her cheese at a fundraising brunch made of local, artisanal products served to President Obama.
“I started to cry when I heard,” she said.
While the store is only open on Fridays through Sundays, the weekend brings in the tourists. Gottreich said she’s getting to know her neighbors much better as they tend to stop in on Fridays.
On Saturdays at noon and Sundays at 1 o'clock, she offers an hour-long tour of the creamery for $20 a head. Visitors get a comprehensive introduction to cheese-making, a tasting of Bohemian’s entire selection of cheese, and the opportunity to buy cheese at wholesale prices. But the most popular feature is getting to frolic with the goats.
While she’s been offering tours for years now, the storefront has brought more people in, who then sign up to take the tour.
Said Gottreich: “People love to have the chance to see where and how my cheeses are made, and to meet the little four-legged ladies that make it all possible.”
7380 Occidental Road [Map]
Sebastopol, CA 95473
Hours: Storefront Fri-Sun 9am-6pm Fri-Sun
To book a tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org.