Hilarides Dairy holds open house

By Carolyn Barbre

The Exeter area not only has a new state-of-the-art dairy, it also has a fabulous new tourist attraction and educational facility all rolled into one.

On Saturday, May 8, all the parking spaces were filled and cars were lining the long drive into Hilarides Dairy at 24163 Road 188 south of Exeter for its open house. In front of the main entryway, in a shaded drive was a table laden with delicacies including Three Sisters Serena Farmstead Cheese.

"This California original, with its unique savory taste, has already several national and international awards to its credit," it said in a handout.

Rob and Jeanie Hilarides and their daughters, the three sisters for whom the cheese is named - Marisa, Lindsay and Hannah - were busy greeting guests. Hannah had just brought out her 4-H cow Crunchy, to help with the meet and greet.

Jeanie said the place to start was to credit Donise Newkirk for the artful table decorations. Newkirk is the proprietor of "A Berry in the Wild" and is probably most noted for her magnificent artificial floral arrangements, but has much more to offer. A Berry in the Wild is always worth a visit, but it's best to call first. The phone number is 562-6104.

Of course wine and cheese are a natural and Michelle Lasgoity was present to give samples of her Blanc Duval Chardonnay and Merlot wines. She was promoting the Madera Wine Trail and said she met Marisa when the cheese maker was serving Three Sisters Serena Farmstead Cheese at the winery Michelle owns with her brother John, Chateau Lasgoity.

The winery recently earned a gold medal in a San Francisco Chronicle wine tasting competition. Michelle said the chardonnay and merlot average $8 a bottle and can be purchased at the Urban Gourmet in Visalia, if one doesn't chose to hit the wine trail. More information is available at www.maderavintners.com. Marisa, whose married name is Simoes, is the primary cheese maker and travels the state introducing Serena farmstead cheese at various events.

The big event of the open house was a trip to the visitor's viewing room where people got a second story view of Hilarides' Jerseys being milked on this huge carousel, an ingenious labor-saving contraption. The children were particularly fascinated, although everyone seemed duly impressed in the crowded viewing room. The Gazette ran a lengthy cover story in the Dec. 24, 2003 issue about Hilarides producing 24,600 gallons of milk a day with 4,400 cows each being milked twice on the carousel, producing six gallons of milk per cow per day.

And this is the first dairy in California built from the beginning to accommodate farmstead cheese making. Jennie said they have already begun having guided tours which cost $8 per person, and $5 for children under 10. But the visitors also get a half-pound of Serena Cheese with the price of admission.

The 30-minute tour includes the cheese plant and milking barn. The number to call to schedule a tour is 562-2132. Self-guided tours are also available in designated areas.

California is supposed to pass Wisconsin as the top cheese making state in the nation by 2005. Hilarides is part of making that happen. "Serena cheese has been custom designed to be a California classic, never having been produced anywhere in the world," it says on their website at www.threesisterscheese.com. This is a high-water mark in Lindsay's bright future.

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