Our Bay Area food tour guides are always hungry for knowledge. We want to get as close to the source of our food as possible, especially the food we curate on our tours. Recently, the team took a trip to visit one of our longest-term partners, Cowgirl Creamery, at their headquarters in Point Reyes Station, about an hour north of San Francisco.
Cowgirl's docent Cheryl explained the company's philosophies and practices. They produce artisan cheeses, meaning each cheese is made by hand, in small batches, using only organic dairy from local farms. Each type of cheese is made from the dairy of a specific herd. For example, their flagship cheese, Mt. Tam, is made exclusively with the milk from the Straus Family Dairy, as it has been from the beginning.
Their washed-rind cheese, Red Hawk, has a storied past. According to Cheryl, a friend of the business absent-mindedly stowed a bag of English cheeses in the aging chamber. When cofounder Peggy Smith went into the chamber later, she noticed the wheels of Mt. Tam adjacent to the bag had a blush of pink bacteria on them. She scrubbed them and rinsed them with brine, hoping to to return them to their snowy white bloom, but the pink kept coming back, so she sequestered them in a container.
When their friend returned, she looked in the bin, and suggested they had something good. The blush comes from the bacteria b. linens, highly prized in European washed-rind cheeses. What started as an accident serendipitously became an award-winning product.
Cheryl also quickly demoed how cheese is made. A coagulant is added to warm milk, which causes the proteins to set into a curd. The curd is then cut and strained. The size of the curd and the length of time left to drain impacts how the cheese will turn out in the end.
Fun fact: Traditionally, cheese is set with rennet, made from the linings of ruminants' stomachs. However, for all their cheeses other than Wagon Wheel, Cowgirl Creamery uses vegetarian coagulant.
Of course, we had to taste. Cheryl served up a vertical tasting of Cowgirl's products, starting with smooth crème fraîche and tangy fromage blanc. After savoring Mt. Tam's buttery paste and mushroomy bloom, the group sampled Chimney Rock, their fall seasonal cheese. Made with Jersey milk from John Taverna's Chileno Valley Dairy, this cheese has a richer flavor. The rind is spritzed with muscat wine, and dusted with herbs and shiitake mushrooms for a complex, earthy flavor.
Next on to Red Hawk, with its funky b. linens rind and dense paste, and finally Wagon Wheel, their more aged, semisoft cheese. This is the cheese they made specially for melting; you can experience it at Sidekick in the Ferry Building on Saturdays when they have their raclette station set up. Molten Wagon Wheel is scraped onto pieces of Acme Bread's herb slab, an experience not to be missed.
Taste Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam and Red Hawk for yourself by joining our Ferry Building tour!