LET IT BRIE
Townies find their way to Naked Cow Dairy in Waianae. Photos by Dallas Nagata White
Naked Cow stages monthly dinners
By Mari Taketa
It’s the middle of nowhere, almost, but it’s a beautiful nowhere: The Waianae Mountains loom verdant in the near distance; Makaha Valley lies over the next ridge; and far behind you, Farrington Highway runs along the Maili coast. Here at the end of a winding, unpaved road in Lualualei Valley, the only movement comes from the curious gazes of a handful of cows, who after a moment turn back to their grazing.
One hour’s drive from the congestion of Honolulu, Naked Cow Dairy is the unlikeliest spot for the cutting edge of local cuisine, but here it is. The tiny dairy’s first on-site cheese dinners in July put it on the foodie map for reasons unmatched on Oahu: The cheeses featured — all handmade at the dairy — are Oahu’s first and only local cows’ milk cheeses, and almost all ingredients for those gourmet five-course dinners came not just from the island, but from the lands surrounding the dairy.
So how does all this play out? Picture this: You get out of your car, stretching after the long drive. All around, fellow townies are doing the same, introducing themselves and congratulating each other on finding the address, which was emailed to everyone after reservations were confirmed.
A short walk down an unpaved path leads you to the cows: Pickles, the mellow Jersey whose appearances around town helped drum up funding for Naked Cow’s cheese-making equipment; Cowalina, whose calf, Cowlotta, was born on Bastille Day, the day of Naked Cow’s first cheese dinner (Cowlotta’s name was the winning choice in a contest among the diners), and about 18 others.
“How many breeds of milk cows can you name?” says founder and owner of the dairy Monique van der Stroom, who is holding another contest. “I have a Naked Cow T-shirt for anyone who can name four breeds.”
Townies put fingers to their chins and think. I worked on a dairy farm during a homestay once; I raise my hand. “Jersey, Holstein and Guernsey?” I venture. No one else can name a fourth. My prize: A white shirt with a spotted cow. “I am the cheese,” it reads.
Gida Snyder introduces each cheese before it's served.
Everyone is consoled by aperitifs of Surinam cherry mixed with champagne, served on the wide lanai of what looks like a humble plantation-style home at the end of the road. It turns out this is Naked Cow’s kitchen and cheese-making facility; the milking room is in the back.
Then the dinners — French-themed, in honor of Bastille Day — begin. Out come trays of brilliant pink MAO Farms radishes, to be generously smeared with Naked Cow’s freshly cultured butter sprinkled with alaea sea salt, French-style, and eaten between bites of freshly baked gougeres filled with Snyder’s own Lualualei cheesy herb spread.
Next, Waianae beef topped with a compound butter mixed with pungent Red, White and Bleu cheese atop a rustic truffade of local sweet potatoes, Snyder’s Waianae Sunset Tomme cheese and chard from the Naked Cow gardens. Rich and pungent, Red, White and Bleu is the crowning glory and signature flavor of the dish.
“It’s rather scary-looking,” warns Snyder, who introduces each course before it’s served. “Wait, I’ll show you”—and she pops through a screen door into the kitchen, emerging with a big hunk of blue mold-streaked deliciousness in a thick, gnarly rind. Townies whip out cameras and smartphones and move in for close-ups.
The rabbit appears, pale under its coat of mustard sauce cooked with fromage blanc and set off by the emeralds of fresh arugula and braised negi. Then a palate cleanser of buttermilk verbena mint ice, a thoughtful touch from Snyder.
Finally, the cheese board, showcasing four cheeses created specially for this July dinner: Kaala Cow Chevre, shaped into a soft log, like the goat’s milk cheese; the red-rinded Waianae Sunset Tomme; Koko Head Ale-Washed Tomme, bathed in beer and served with pretzels; and cubes of Makaha Mango Gouda, studded with sweet dried fruit from the next valley.
But Snyder’s menu isn’t done yet. Dinner ends with an open-faced tart of fromage blanc topped with a sliver of her signature brie-like Big Cream Little Rind, served with figs poached in honey and wine.
Diners are stuffed and happy. Snyder and her crew get an ovation at the end, along with toasts all around. When’s the next dinner? she’s asked. The question will come up again and again in the weeks afterward, after word of the dinner gets out and people start calling the dairy and inquiring at Naked Cow’s farmers’ market booths.
In the fall, Snyder promises. Keep watching our Facebook and website.
On Facebook at Naked Cow Dairy Hawaii