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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cowgirl Creamery: A Northern California Cheese Adventure

"Let's go to the Cowgirl Creamery next month," I said to my food adventure friend Carl Mindling. I was just at the Ferry Building and saw the most amazing melted cheese dish called "Raclette" and I want to try it. Always agreeable when it comes to pretty much anything food, Carl was on board from the start.

The Cowgirl Creamery at Point Reyes is Located in this Building

I went online to check out the Cowgirl Creamery website and saw that they offered a Cheese 101 Class in Pt. Reyes Station. We could learn about cheese, the Cowgirl Creamery, see a cheese making demonstration and sample cheeses for the low, low price of $5.00. Of course we had to go!

That's Cheryl. She explained the history of dairy ranching and cheese making in the Inverness and Point Reyes area of California's coastline. It was a colorful and fascinating historical perspective that began with an 1800's land grab and the Seashore Protection act that President Kennedy signed back in the 1960's protecting the 30 Historic Ranches located in the region that, years later, led to the creation of our country's first Agricultural Land Trust.

We also learned that the Cowgirl Creamery believes "Sustainability is part and parcel of this business." Because of this the air, soil and animals that are part of their cheese making process are all sustained in the best possible ways.

And then came the cheese tasting! We sampled 8 cheeses. Here is my assessment of them:
  1. Fromage Blanc: Most closely resembled cream cheese and can be used as a cream cheese replacement. It was slightly salty and nice and creamy.
  2. Cottage Cheese: Would you believe this was the first time I've ever tasted Cottage Cheese? I loved it! This Clabbard style cottage cheese was tangy (acidic) and salty in flavor and the large curds were rich in texture. 
  3. Crème fraiche: You'll often see crème fraiche in recipes used as a more upscale version of sour cream. The sample we tasted that day was lemony, tangy and very creamy.
  4. Inverness: This is a young, aged fromage blanc cheese with an edible, soft white mold on the rind. I have to say while I loved the creamy smoothness of the texture, I personally didn't care for this cheese because it had a distinct floral note in its flavor. But if you love floral notes in your food you'll probably really enjoy this cheese!  
  5. Red Hawk: We were told this that Red Hawk is a strong "stinky" cheese in the way Limburger Cheese is strong. I knew this was one of the Creamery's award winning cheeses so I was prepared to love it. Sadly, the flavor was just too much for me. It was the only sample I didn't finish that day. But perhaps I just have a wimpy cheese palate. LOL
  6. Wagon Wheel: I was super excited to try the Wagon Wheel as I'd recently read about it in an online news story. Described as a "young Asiago" with great meltability (perfect for pizzas and baked pastas) I knew I'd love this cheese, and I did. 
  7. ST PAT: A seasonal holiday cheese, ST PAT is a springtime cheese that is more yellow than some of the other cheeses because it's made with milk from Jersey cows instead the more frequently used Holstein cows. The dark object on one end is a stinging nettle leaf that you can eat because the stingers have been removed. It's a lightly flavored cheese with a smooth texture and the nettles add a smoky, earthy flavor.
  8. And my favorite...

MT TAM (named after Mount Tamalpais) is their award winning, triple cream cheese that I can only describe as tasting like a young, rich, mellow Brie. They can't call it "Brie" because like "champagne" France owns the name. But to say it resembles Brie in flavor and texture is the best way I can describe it to you. It's so creamy and silky smooth. The flavor is buttery and has the same earthy kind of flavor Brie has. A huge plus: The texture and flavor of the white mold bloom and the edible rind itself are much more mellow and soft than French Brie. I LOVED this cheese so much I bought the small round you see above.

After the tasting Cheryl gave us a cheese making demonstration by mixing milk and rennet together in a small tub. The rennet separates the curds (solids) from the whey (liquids). Move over Little Miss Muffet! You're not the only one who knows what curds and whey are now!

Within moments she was able to spoon out some of the solid mixture into a small strainer to create the soft curd cheese you can see to the right above. Left longer in the tub, she cut through the now more solid, cheese mixture to create the heavier, more full bodied sample to the left which at the end of the class held it's shape nicely when she tipped it out of the mold. The little peaks are where the cheese dripped out of the holes of the strainer that allowed the whey to run out.

Cheryl is a great cheese educator! I'd highly recommend you head on up to Point Reyes Station to take her class offered on Friday mornings and afternoons. Make sure you register ahead online because the class sizes are limited. She is a wealth of information and you'll get to sample a wide variety of cheeses!

After the class you can shop around. Along with Cowgirl Creamery's artisan cheeses, you'll find the Cantina, a small deli, and all kinds of gourmet food products, a small wine selection and fresh produce from "Little Shorty's Golden Point Produce."

There is cheese everywhere....

And when I say everywhere...


There are imported cheeses from Europe lke this Pecorino from Italy...

To this Wasabi Goat Cheese by Westfield Farm in Massachusetts...

And of course their own locally produced cheese like the yummy Wagon Wheel.

After wrapping up our cheese class Carl and I wandered around the neighborhood a bit then, taking the advice of the woman who was working the counter at Shorty's, we headed out to try a flatbread she had raved to us about in San Rafael. Since it was on our way back to SF we popped off the freeway to check out Vin Antico an Urban Trattoria.

A swanky little restaurant and bar on Fourth Street we were very pleasantly surprised by the upscale ambiance. When we arrived we discovered there were several, topped like pizzas, flatbread options to choose from. We selected the Oven Roasted Egg, Pancetta, Creamy Leeks, Crescenza Cheese and white Truffle Oil ($14) Flatbread without the Pancetta.

It looked like this and was freaking amazing! Even as I basked in its cheesy, leeky, eggy wonderfulness I felt sad that the restaurant is an hour and a half away from my house (in good traffic) and wished it was a lot closer. LOL. But don't worry, my tears of sadness didn't dampen the deliciousness of our wood fired flatbread.

I also loved that, according to their menu, Vin Antico includes many organic, sustainably and humanely raised ingredients in their food like the cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, humanely farmed eggs from Glaum Egg Ranch, Prather Ranch Beef, Sonoma Poultry and produce from Little Farms and Epic Roots.

Next, we headed to our final destination that day. You may have forgotten this began as our original destination at the beginning of this post. Boy did we get sidetracked!

The Cowgirl Creamery "Sidekick" is located in San Francisco's Ferry Building on the Embarcadero waterfront just north of the Bay Bridge and right next to their retails space. The CC Sidekick offers cheese based, to-go food and desserts.

I first spotted the CC SidekIck when I brought my friend Michelle to the Ferry Building a few weeks earlier. So, here's how it works. You order your food at this front counter...

And pick it up just around the corner to the right at their "Milk Bar" which is also where you can order custom cold and heated milk drinks.

The day Michelle and I saw the raclette, a cheese melting machine, we were mesmerized. As we watched the cheese melt the nice man behind the counter offered us a sample. I was hooked. I had to have it but we'd just eaten lunch so it would have to be another day.

Here is a tutorial about Raclette in brief: Raclette is the name used for both the cheese itself and the style of how the dish is prepared. Part of a round of Raclette (a Swiss) cheese is placed in a holder beneath a heating element that melts only the top side.

When the cheese is melted just enough, note the nice browned spot above, the melted portion is scraped off with a knife.

At the CC Sidekick there are two choices. You can have your melted Raclette draped over freshly grilled vegetables or potatoes roasted in duck fat.

We chose the asparagus, the vegetable du jour. First, slices of grilled and buttered bread were put down, then the grilled asparagus, and the melted cheese tops them off as the final layer. There were also pickled beets and cornichons added to the side of the tray.

And then he did it again. *Gasp, gasp, thud*  He added another swath of melted Raclette to our plate.

Yummmmmmmmmm.... I could hardly wait to try it!

In the past my favorite place to eat at the Ferry Building has always been Delica, the Japanese deli. Now, I'm torn. I love both places equally. The Raclette was everything I hoped it would be and I'm already looking forward to having it again.

Carl also wanted to try their Grilled Cheese Sandwich with cornichons. It was super too.

Our ooey, gooey, cheesy Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

After we were done eating we went to the Cowgirl Creamery store in the Ferry Building. I purchased the Mt. Tam I showed you earlier and Carl picked up some Wagon Wheel.

Just like the Point Reyes Station location there were so many cheeses to choose from!

The strong cheese like Red Hawk and blue cheeses are in the upper photo and the soft cheeses like Goat Cheese, Cottage Cheese and the Crème Fraiche in the lower case.

This caught my eye as Carl was paying for his cheese, organic Parmigiano Reggiano. It was interesting in two ways. One, was it's organic. The second reason was even though it's cheese, it's not vegetarian as the rennet is "traditional" meaning they use the enzymes extracted (most often) from a veal calf's stomach (after slaughter) to coagulate the cheese. Before that day I had no idea all cheeses weren't vegetarian! Cowgirl uses a vegetarian rennet to make their cheeses. Vegetarian rennets can be made using certain types of vegetables or molds.

And this struck both Carl and I as so cool! There are home Mini Raclette cheese melters! Who knew? They sell a mini one at Cowgirl Creamery but you can find large ones for dinner parties if you Google "Raclete." The top of the raclette machine, above the heating element, is a grill where you can cook meat and veggies. Below the heating element you place your cheese in a small metal pan to melt it.

So for $59.95 you can purchase your own mini raclette. Then you just need to source your Raclette cheese. Most likely if you want authentic Raclette cheese you'll need to have it shipped.

Worried you can't have Cowgirl Creamery Cheese because you don't live in California? If you live in Washington DC you're in luck because there is one shop there. For everyone else you can find a selection of Cowgirl Creamery cheeses if you live in proximity to a Whole Foods store.

You can also order individual cheeses over the phone. Just dial (866) 433-7834 to find out what's in stock and what shipping charges would be. They do ship nationwide but not internationally.

Or join their cheese club or order an assorted collection of cheese by mail.

So what began as a simple trip to the Ferry Building Marketplace turned out to be our longest food adventure so far! Pt. Reyes Station is an hour and 45 minutes each way from San Jose so just driving there and back took longer than our entire day of touring Santa Cruz last month. It was well worth the effort though and now I have a new favorite restaurant to go back to in San Rafael as well!

My thanks to Cheryl for the wonderful class and I hope you all someday have the chance to have a bite of Cowgirl Creamery cheese somehow, somewhere.

The funniest thing is I didn't even like cheese until a few years ago. Now I'm crazy for it!

Here's an informative video all about cheese making featuring the Cowgirl Creamery:

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably like these too:
• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure
Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites
Great Italian Food at A16 Restaurant in San Francisco

Or CLICK HERE to read my Foodie Friend Carl Mindling's blog post about this same excursion.


  1. Wow Stacie, I love this blog post, I'm a cheese fan despite being slightly lactose intolerant! :) going to have to check this place out when I'm back.

  2. Go for sure! It was such a fun and delicious day! I'll come with you if you need company :P

  3. you can get raclette in Dittmer's in Los Altos - http://www.dittmers.com/faqs.htm

    he sells authentic Swiss Raclette

    Great post Stacie! That area has some good cheese stores - French Marin a few miles south toward Petaluma is another great place to visit


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