By Jennifer Kramer
A drive east of Ensenada on the southern branch of Mexico 3 (heading toward San Felipe) will bring travelers to the small dusty town of Ojos Negros, located in the namesake valley. The Valle de Ojos Negros gets its name (“Black Eyes”) from all of the wells in this sparsely populated agricultural valley that look like eyes when viewed from above. The wells feed agricultural crops, local ranches, and vineyards that supply grapes to the boutique wineries in Valle de Guadalupe.
Here in the Valle de Ojos Negros, just east of the small town of Ojos Negros, is Rancho la Campana, better known these days as being the home of Ramonetti cheeses and La Cava de Marcelo cheese cave. Since 1911, the Ramonetti family has been making cheese on this large dairy farm. The ranch and cheese cave are open to the public and visitors can take informative tours of the farm to see the cows and learn about the cheese-making process. The tour ends with a wine and cheese tasting down in the cheese cave.
A variety of cheeses are produced at the ranch, from a fresh ricotta to quesos frescos (basil, rosemary, and black cracked pepper, in addition to regular) to aged cheeses (aged six months, one year, and two years). In addition to the cheese, the ranch produces a savory butter that’s completely natural with no salt or additives. The delicious flavor of the butter comes solely from the fat of the cow. They do not use pasteurization in their cheese or milk, which lends a natural bold flavor to the products.
The cows at Rancho la Campana are milked twice a day, and if you happen to be there during the evening milking time, you’ll get the unique experience of watching the cows walk themselves from their pen down the dirt road to the milking stations. They know their routine without any prompting from humans and the ritual promenade is delightful to watch if you aren’t someone who normally spends a lot of time around ranches or farms.
Once you’ve seen where the cheese comes from and how it’s produced, visitors go underground to see the cheese cave, which can hold up to 10,000 wheels of cheese. Marcelo Castro, fourth-generation cheese maker and Rancho la Campana owner, was the one to build the cave in 2008 (hence the name of the cave, Cava de Marcelo). The cave was one of the first cheese caves built in Latin America, and is the only cheese cave in Latin American open to the public. The stone structure provides the perfectly cool temperatures and humidity that the cheese needs to age correctly. Each wheel of cheese is rotated every day. Here in the dark cool of the wine cave, visitors get to taste more cheese along with some wine.
If you’re still hungry after your tour, they’ve opened a restaurant on the property, so visitors can enjoy farm-fresh food sitting outside at a lovely picnic area under the trees.
The family also has a restaurant in Ensenada, Casa Marcelo, which specializes in breakfasts and also serves lunch. The cheeses from the ranch are featured in many of the dishes and the cheese and butter from the ranch is available for sale (for the same price you can purchase it for directly out at the ranch).
La Cava de Marcelo
Open Thur.-Sun: 1pm-6pm
Tour and cheese tasting US$10
How to get there: (GPS: 31.943169, -116.263707) Take highway Mexico 3 east from Ensenada (toward San Felipe). The town of Ojos Negros will be at Km. 40. Stay on highway Mexico 3 until Km. 43.5 where you will see a sign for Rancho La Campana. Turn left (north) and continue for 7 kilometers, following signs for “Cava de Queso.”