Rancho Mora: North American Cheese That Would Make a Frenchman Weep For Joy
Driving along the "back" road that leads from the free road near La Misión to the main valley settlement of Francisco Zarco, you pass through El Tigre, and the road gets twistier, hillier, narrower, and altogether more rural. Driving east one day toward El Porvenir, Bill and I saw a sign that read, simply, "QUESO". The driveway was blocked by what appeared to be a bag of concrete dropped in a heap and allowed to harden in the weather; Bill's car couldn't clear it.
Nothing stops us from finding great food, however. Nothing. We parked just off the highway in a dry wash and hiked up the driveway. A woman greeted us and Bill asked if we could speak to Señor Mora; she sent us up to the barn, where he was finishing the day's work. Having established that we both speak Spanish, he gave us a tour of the cows, the wine cellar, and then hopped on a beat-up old bicycle to meet us at the house.
He opened a refrigerator on the porch of the house--this is where it gets a little Arkansas--and showed us stacks and stacks of wheels of beige-yellow cheese. "It isn't ready yet," he said, "it needs a couple more weeks." Still, he let us try it, and he let us buy a wheel each. It was wonderful cheese, creamy and so full of that almost-acrid milkfat taste that we couldn't imagine what it would taste like when fully mature.
Three weeks later, I went back with friends I was taking on a tour of Baja, and we pulled into Señor Mora's driveway. My Honda Accord, loaded with four passengers and luggage, barely made it over the hump in the driveway; we pulled up to the house, where two very friendly dogs and one extremely pissed-off kitten greeted us. I asked after the cheese, and Mora told me it was ready.
It's almost impossible to describe; the cheese practically beggars description. It's nearly as creamy as Brie de Meaux, though firmer, but with a wild, funky, floral, "barnyard" flavor that could only come from the raw milk used. As with all cheeses of its type, the flavor is mostly in the rind and the texture is mostly in the center.
Most semi-soft cheeses separate into seized-up curds and oil when melted; asadero de Rancho Mora melts as well as the famous queso menonita that's the quesadilla filling of choice in certain parts of Mexico.
Unusually for cheese, it ages beautifully in a home fridge; I've been whittling away at a wheel for a couple of months now, and though I have to wipe off surface mold with a clean cloth dipped in white vinegar every now, the cheese has only improved. It goes into chiles rellenos; it goes into quesadillas; I put it on grass-fed beef sliders with thick-cut bacon and pickled chile mayonnaise and nearly swooned.
It can be daunting to track this cheese down--there's no address, there's just a tiny sign, there's the entrance barricade, and Señor Mora is shy about speaking English (though his accent is quite good), but it is unquestionably the best cheese produced on this continent I have ever had. Go find it. Just don't buy him out--I'm almost out.
Rancho Mora is located on the road from Highway 1 to Francisco Zarco, 12.8 km (8 miles) southwest of the main road junction in Francisco Zarco. To get there from Federal Highway 3, turn north at the traffic light in San Antonio de las Minas, go all the way to the end of the paved road, turn right, and go exactly 3.4 miles (5.5 km). To get there by the most direct route, exit the toll road for La Misión and head inland; turn left at the military checkpoint and the sign for the Ruta del Vino, and go 7.2 miles (11.6 km). You'll cross a wide wash; if your car is low-slung, park off the highway as close as you can to the driveway and walk up.
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