By now, if you're a farmers market regular, you've probably tried the delicious fresh cheese available from Spring Hill Cheese. But if you haven't tried the farm's amazing cheddars, jacks, curds, quarks or award-winning Old World Portuguese, you don't know what you're missing. What a difference it makes to have fresh estate cheese (cheese that is manufactured from a single location) available at your fingertips. The cows eat lush green grass and their milk is used to make cheese right there in the cheese-making room. It is then aged, cut and packaged for distribution, all on the same Sonoma County dairy, then brought as fresh as possible to the local farmers markets. A herd of 400 Jersey cows provides the milk for Spring Hill Cheese's growing line of farmstead cheeses. Smaller than Holsteins (the typical black-and-white cow), which produce a greater yield of milk, Jersey cows' milk contains more butter fat, resulting in a rich, creamy flavor. Because of its low-quantity yield, the Jersey cow is no longer common in most commercial dairy operations.

Spring Hill Cheese owner Larry Peter began his dairy in 1987 and started producing his product in 1998. The cheese is made entirely from the milk of pasture-grazed Jersey cows. The difference in taste is unbelievable!

The number of Spring Hill cheeses available at the farmers markets is impressive, with something for every culinary use -- from rich, creamy quarks, ideal for bagels, to award-winning sage and sharp white cheddars, perfect for roast beef sandwiches, to soft teleme jack, just right for quesadillas. You can find other cheeses -- and butters -- at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real farmers markets.

All Spring Hill cheeses are produced with all-natural, 100 percent cultured Grade A jersey milk; salt; and enzymes. That's it! No artificial hormones! The fresh cheeses are aged from three to five weeks; the jacks, three to six months; and the cheddars, six to nine months.

If you're planning on hosting a party anytime soon, Spring Hill Cheese is a must. Your guests will be blown away by the flavor and selection if you put out a spread of the cheeses. Another great idea for a party is fondue, particularly in these cooler months. There are endless recipes for fondue, but one of my favorites incorporates aged cheddar, fresh asparagus, spinach and, of course, a little bacon. Served with fresh bread and sliced apples from the Creekside Apple Ranch in Santa Ynez, also at the market, you can't go wrong.

For a full list of cheeses available from Spring Hill Cheese, as well as more information on the farm, go to www.springhillcheese.com.




CHEDDAR, ASPARAGUS, SPINACH AND BACON FONDUE

1/4 pound bacon (available from Rocky Canyon Ranch at the Saturday Santa Barbara farmers market)

2 tablespoons olive oil (available at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Thursday Carpinteria, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

1 medium onion, diced

4 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 bunch fresh asparagus, hard ends removed, diced

1 cup low-fat milk

1 (10-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup fresh spinach leaves, finely diced

1/2 pound sage cheddar, shredded (available from Spring Hill Cheese at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

1/2 pound white cheddar, shredded (available from Spring Hill Cheese at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

1/2 pound smoked cheddar, shredded (available from Spring Hill Cheese at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang, Thursday Goleta, Saturday Santa Barbara and Sunday Camino Real markets)

Hot sauce, optional

1 baguette (available from Creekside Apple Ranch at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang and Saturday Santa Barbara markets)

1 loaf sourdough bread (available from Creekside Apple Ranch at the Tuesday Santa Barbara, Wednesday Solvang and Saturday Santa Barbara markets)

3 Pink Lady apples, or any you prefer, cores removed, sliced (available at most weekly Santa Barbara Certified Farmers Markets)

In a medium pan or in the oven, cook bacon until crisp and brown. Drain the fat and crumble bacon. Set aside. In large pot over medium heat, add olive oil and saute onion, garlic and asparagus for about 5 minutes, or until they start to soften and onion and garlic turn golden. Reduce heat to medium-low and add milk, mushroom soup and spinach. Mix ingredients until base is smooth. Add cheeses and stir constantly (reduce heat if necessary to prevent burning) until melted and smooth. Add bacon and hot sauce, if desired. (Add more milk if mixture is too thick.) Serve fondue with baguette, sourdough bread and apples.

Yield: about 6 servings or about 6 cups