Point Reyes Gems -Spring 2006

Artisinal Cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery

by: Dan Fost

photography by: Marian Little Utley

Hand-crafted, creamy, luscious rounds of Cowgirl Creamery cheese melt hearts and palates across the San Francisco Bay Area. The oozy rich cheeses spread across homemade crackers and brick-oven bread so smoothly that it’s easy to forget that it’s made with something as ordinary as the milk of cows.

Yet the cows behind this cheese are not exactly ordinary. In many ways, they’re the secret ingredient – the Cowgirls’ very reason for being.

The cows belong to the Straus Family Creamery, a small but pioneering organic operation in the hills above Tomales Bay, nearly two hours’ drive from San Francisco but only 10 miles from the Cowgirls’ rural cheese-making operation. These coddled cows, blessed with million-dollar views, are not given any hormones or antibiotics, and their pasture is not treated with any herbicides, pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

Every other day, a tanker full of the milk pulls up outside the Cowgirl Creamery and fills up a vat, and the process of making the cheese begins.

When Sue Conley, a former restaurateur with a gift for food marketing, moved to rural Point Reyes Station in 1989, she became friends first with Ellen Straus and then with her son Albert.

“Albert was making this fantastic milk, and most organic milk was being put into commodity products, even though it could be sold at a 30 percent premium,” Conley says. Why just sell it as milk, or as ordinary cheese like Monterey Jack, when it could make delicious, high-quality gourmet cheeses?

A business was born, and a wisecrack from Ellen Straus gave it a name. “Just remember, Sue,” Straus said, as she and Conley looked in the window of the old hay barn that was transformed into the cheese-making operation. “We’re in the Wild West.”

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