Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses
Central Texas cheese lovers have got a good ricotta, finally
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., June 10, 2011
Central Texas has seen an explosion of locally made, artisanal cheeses over the last decade. Mozzarella, cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, cream cheese, chèvre, and even aged bleu cheese are readily available from such makers as Full Quiver Farms and Pure Luck. But one simple type of cheese has remained elusive: fresh ricotta.
Fresh ricotta is a very different animal from the commercially available, mass-produced variety. At its best, it can be richly creamy, deeply flavorful, and complex, a far cry from the nearly flavorless curds generally available. Finally, outstanding fresh ricotta is being made in Austin by Dos Lunas Artisan Cheese, a company started by Joaquin Avellan.
When Avellan traveled to Venezuela to help at home when his father had open-heart surgery, he stayed to help his parents run their cheese-making dairy operation for several months. Later, when he came back home, "In the middle of the night, I would wake up in my bed thinking, 'I have to milk the cows! What is happening in the dairy? I need to make the cheese!'" relates Avellan. "Finally, I realized what it was ... I missed it. I missed making the cheese. So I decided to make my own."
He set out to find raw milk that he felt he could work with. He found it at Stryk Farms in Schulenberg. There, the small herd of 60 cows grazes entirely on grass, producing a wonderful, rich milk.
At present, Dos Lunas makes two cheeses: the creamy, complex ricotta ($5), and a Clasico raw milk cheese ($6). "Texas law requires that any raw milk cheese be aged for 60 days; that's where we get out name, 'Dos Lunas,' that means two months," Avellan says. "But the ricotta is not a raw cheese. To make ricotta, you first must heat the whey to precipitate out the solids. Our ricotta is super fresh. But the Clasico is aged 60 days."
Local chefs have been wildly enthusiastic about Dos Lunas. At present, Avellan has chefs very interested at La Condesa, wink, Vino Vino, and Vespaio. "Rene Ortiz [at La Condesa] was extremely supportive," says Avellan. "They may buy our Clasico for melting – it is primarily a melting cheese – and our ricotta for desserts. They need so much though, it would mean selling them all the cheese we make. I'm not certain that would be the best move – better to have many customers," he smiles. "Or at least several."
At the Dos Lunas stand at the Sunset Valley Farmers' Market, assisted by his daughter Elise and nephew Xavier, Avellan also sells his cheeses in hot quesadillas with a variety of fillings ($4) as well as chilled to take home.
Dos Lunas cheese is available at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, open Saturdays 9am-1pm.