Donna & Jim Pacheco: Bringing joy to your stomach

Succeeding as a family-run dairy farm requires constant reinvention and business pivoting in order to compete with the big guys.
 Donna and Jim Pacheco (and family) of Achadinha Cheese Company, standing in the barn at the farm in Petaluma, California.
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Succeeding as a family-run dairy farm requires constant reinvention and business pivoting in order to compete with the big guys. Nobody knows this better than Donna and Jim Pacheco of Achadinha Cheese Company, whose determination and flexibility have allowed them to adapt to the ever-challenging and always-challenging agricultural landscape. The result? We get to enjoy their world class cheeses.

As third generation dairy farmers with nearly 70 years experience, the Pacheco family started with cows, selling their milk on the commodity market (like all other dairies at the time). Then, in 1997 when prices dropped too low to survive, they transitioned to milking goats, a rarity in a region traditionally known for dairy cows.

After initially supplying nearby Redwood Hill Creamery (a much loved cheesemaking company which is no longer in business), they also began making their own cheese. It wasn’t long, however, before a mega goat dairy in the Central Valley sprung up to flood the market with cheap goat milk, with the ensuing goat milk glut causing prices to plummet. Once again, the Pachecos pivoted, this time by returning back to milking cows, and transitioning all of their cheese recipes from goat to cows’ milk.

Personally, all this pivoting would make me so dizzy that I'd fall flat on my butt!. But not the Pacheco family! Today, Donna, lead cheesemaker, makes two aged cow milk cheeses - Cowpricious and Broncha - with milk from their small 125-cow herd. She also makes fresh curds (in a wide variety of flavors), as well as Kefir, Fromage Blanc and Butter.

When talking about Broncha, Donna explains the challenges of switching from goat to cow milk. “You’d never know they’re the same recipe,” she says. “We named it Broncha, based on the Portuguese word “Bronco,” which means ‘white,’ because goat milk cheese is very white. But now that it’s cow milk, the color is much more yellow.” Either way, having tasted both versions, it’s delicious and wonderfully unique.

Achadinha Cheese (as well as their kefir, eggs, and meat) is available exclusively at over 60 farmers markets throughout California, from Healdsburg in the north, Sacramento to the east and as far south as Los Angeles.

If you’re in Petaluma, Donna gives farm tours on Saturdays (sign up online), where you get to see (and pet!) the animals, the milking barn and taste her cheeses.

In addition to the weekly farm tour, if you get a group together (minimum of 10 people), you can join Donna as she makes cheese and participate in the real process of cheesemaking.

Every one of Donna and Jim’s four children - okay, they’re grown up now - help out at the ranch. Each has different interests and talents, and, together, as a family, they keep the ranch alive. As small farms struggle to survive, Donna, Jim and the next generation of Pachecos, also known as pivoters, can bring joy to your stomach.

Want to plan your own trip to visit a cheesemaker? Get the latest version of the Cheese Trail map by clicking HERE to download a PDF, find a local map distributor or to request a copy by mail.


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