July 17th, 2006
Name: Andante Dairy
Owner: Soyoung Scanlan
Location: Petaluma, CA
Animals: Soyoung gets goat milk from Volpi Ranch where her cheesemaking plant is located. She gets cow milk from Spring Hill Dairy which has 400 Jersey cows
Cheeses/Products: Baton, Minuet, Crottin, Acapella, Nocturne, Pianoforte, Candenza, Metronome, Rondo, Melange, Adagio, Figaro, Picolo, Largo
More info: www.andantedairy.com
A couple years ago I read an article about Soyoung Scanlan in Saveur magazine and something about it moved me. I’m sure I was not alone in this feeling its just that I was also working in cheese at the time and grew up about one hour away from her cheesemaking plant. Since reading that article I have been scheming to visit Andante- with our cheese tour I had my opening. In April of this year, Andante moved from Santa Rosa to Petaluma; more specifically to the top of one of the velvety rolling hills of Petaluma. Soyoung’s facility shares this hilltop with the goats of Volpi Ranch that provide the milk for some of her cheeses.
Considering that Soyoung did not set out to become a cheesemaker she has become a revered figure in the artisan cheese industry. A number of cheesemakers we have visited met Soyoung during her time at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo where she spent over two years studying the properties of milk and how it functions in cheesemaking. Soyoung is an interesting combination, potentially a dichotomy, of the scientist and the artist. She has studied science for years with a background in engineering and she is also an avid pianist. I think Soyoung would be the first to admit that she has not looked at her cheesemaking as a business so much as a marriage of science and art- two seemingly conflicting things that bring her joy and that come together in the transition of milk into cheese.
Soyoung’s facility feels spacious, organized and clean. Its not incredibly high-tech and just like everywhere else, all the equipment comes used. There isn’t a huge stock of product on hand as Soyoung’s cheeses are almost sold before they are made. Early on in her cheesemaking career she was approached by Thomas Keller of the French Laundry who took a liking to her cheese. This one customer has helped Soyoung immensely, not only in sales, but also because of brief moments where she got to see Keller at work in his own kitchen. She says that each time she left the French Laundry kitchen she felt inspired by the drive and meticulous attention to detail exhibited there and when she returned to her cheese plant she would return to her plant invigorated, looking around for small improvements to make.
The best of her cheeses go to the French Laundry as they have since Thomas Keller placed his first order. He saw the self-conscious nature of Soyoung when he first met her and tasted her cheeses. Keller instructed Soyoung to bring them cheese whenever she felt it was good enough and that they would take whatever she had.
Although I think Soyoung’s public persona seems to make cheesemaking look tranquil and artistic, the reality behind that appearance is an incredible amount of hours and hard labor. The thing she said that stuck in my mind is that all along her arduous path to cheesemaking (i.e. up at 2:30 Am to drive from SF to Petaluma to collect her buckets of milk and haul them to Santa Rosa to make cheese) she didn’t ask herself whether she wanted to do each thing rather she asked, “is it possible?”. Clearly for someone with her drive it was and is possible. She is not afraid of hard work and yet within those long hours she has a lot of quiet time to observe what is around her and these observations seem to impact her cheesemaking as well. For example, in her new location she is closer to the goats that provide her with milk and she said that watching them has changed how she feels about the milk- the inherent value in the liquid that fills the vat.
She is not making cheese every day at the moment but with the mold-ripened variety she makes there are cheeses to be tended each day. When we were there she was focused on preparing cheeses to be taken to the Ferry Building farmers’ market in San Francisco the following day. Andante cheese is sold and served only at a handful of places, many of the ones lucky enough to get it are retailers and restaurants who have supported her from the beginning. Unlike other cheesemakers who have expanded into new facilities with the hope of making more cheese, Soyoung is comfortable with her current production. So the next time you’re at the French Laundry or wandering around in Healdsburg- which we highly recommend- keep an eye out for her cheeses.