Meet Sonoma County Cheesemaker, Donna Pacheco of Achadinha Cheese Company
Donna Pacheco is a cheesemaker, a mom, a grandmother, a tour guide — just about anything the Achadinha Cheese Company needs her to be. Named for the small town in Portugal's Azores Islands where Donna's father-in-law was born, Achadinha (pronounced Osh-a-deen-ah) is the family farm and cheesemaking business she runs with her husband and children on 230 stunning, sustainably managed acres in Petaluma.
Donna's husband, Jim Pacheco, is a third-generation dairy farmer, and their four grown kids — William, Daniel, Elizabeth, and David — are now the fourth generation to carry on the family trade. Together, they pasture Nubian goats and Jersey cows, using their milk to create farmstead cheeses and other products that they largely sell in California farmers markets.
The Pachecos also offer in-depth tours of their working farm because, as Donna says, "It's important to know where your food's coming from. What we do doesn't work for everyone, but we want to share and give education about what our lifestyle is like."
She and her family are happy to have a farm in Sonoma County, where they love the wine, the food, the people, and the land. "It's beautiful here," she says, "especially when we have rain to give us green, rolling hills."
Capturing rain for drinking water for their cows and goats — which the Pachecos affectionately refer to as "the girls" — is only part of the farm's effort toward sustainability. The girls' manure is captured, composted, and spread onto Achidinha's fields to nourish the soil; between rains, these pesticide-free fields are irrigated with grey water from the cheese plant, and the Pacheco's beloved animals are pastured on them throughout the year.
The girls' agrarian diet receives a surprising supplement from another local business. "We're fortunate enough to get brewer's grain from Seismic Brewing Company," Donna says, "which is composed of barley and hops that they steam and press. They take the liquid for beer making, and we take the fermented mash." This mash is easily digested by the milking cows and goats, which results in the Pachecos' ultimate goal: Dairy products that are easier for us to digest.
Achidinha's cheese express the terroir of Sonoma County, from the native yeasts in the fresh pasture air to the natural molds on their aged cheeses. Two of the most popular cheeses are Broncha, a Portuguese table cheese aged 3-7 months, and the hand-rolled Cowpricious, aged 6-12 months — both made with a mix of goat's and cow's milk.
The dairy also makes a variety of seasoned cheese curds, fromage blanc, and a zingy feta that Donna salt-brines by hand. Additional offerings include kefir, butter, and handmade goat's milk soap.
All of Achidinha Cheese Company's products can be ordered for shipping through their website. In Sonoma County, though, you can find/taste them at the farmers markets in Petaluma, Bodega Bay, Healdsburg, and Santa Rosa.
Part of the California Cheese Trail, Achadinha gives public tours on Saturdays, and can arrange private tours for those who would prefer a smaller group. They also offer private cheesemaking classes during the week. Reservations are a must for all tours and classes — and since this is a working farm, you're encouraged to not wear your best shoes.