Neighbor Profile: Cowgirl Creamery

Sue Conley and Peggy Smith are familiar names in the world of artisan, farmstead cheese. They were among the very first Americans, and the first women, to be inducted into the Guilde des Fromagers, the esteemed French organization of cheese professionals. Their Tomales Bay Foods and Cowgirl Creamery helped launch the farm to table movement in the 1990s and revitalized the dairy economy of West Marin County. Sue and Peggy came to California after meeting at the University of Tennessee and worked in a number of legendary restaurants in San Francisco, including Chez Panisse, Noe Valley Bar and Grill and Bette’s Oceanview Diner, which Sue owned with Bette Kroening. After many years at the Diner, Sue sold the business and moved to Point Reyes in West Marin County, just north of San Francisco. It was here that she met Ellen Straus, who with her husband Albert owned the Straus ranch and dairy. They were producing organic milk and butter, and Sue and Peggy, who by now had joined up with Sue, began selling Straus milk and butter to Bay Area chefs. This was the beginning of Tomales Bay Foods, a distribution company that works with West Marin farms and dairies to bring their products to market. At the same time, they had purchased an old barn in Pt. Reyes Station and landed on the idea of producing cheese there Straus family milk. Thus was born Cowgirl Creamery. Their first cheeses were fresh, soft organic cheeses like cottage cheese and creme fraiche. As their knowledge and skills developed, they began producing aged, ripened cheeses. Their washed-rind Red Hawk won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society competition in 2003, launching the Cowgirl Creamery and Red Hawk names into the American culinary consciousness. Today they produce around ten different cheeses, both aged and soft, including a number of seasonal cheeses. All are made from local, organic milk. As their production grew, they moved their creamery operation to Petaluma, but the original creamery in the barn in Pt. Reyes Station still produces Red Hawk, which needs the native yeasts that exist only there for its distinctive flavor. You can visit the Cowgirl Creamery in Pt. Reyes, taste their cheeses and shop their store. Their Cowgirl Cantina offers deli foods and salads to make a picnic, which you can enjoy at their tables right outside the barn. You’ll notice some familiar looking olive trees outside as well-given to them by Nan McEvoy and nestled in planters made from original lumber from the barn. They also run a store at the Ferry Building Market in San Francisco, being the fourth business to sign a lease there (McEvoy Ranch was number 3). Sue and Peggy are true pioneers of the farm to table movement, much like their friend Nan McEvoy. We hope you visit them soon. Cowgirl Creamery 80 4th Street Point Reyes Station, CA 94956 (415) 663 9335