In 1998 I was visiting our Northern California Whole Foods Market stores and I came across a new cheese when dining in a local restaurant. It was a tasty cheese, very creamy with a luscious mouthfeel. It wasn't like any imported brie I had tasted before - the flavors were quite unique. It was fresh with soft overtones of mushrooms. I loved it. Later I found out this was a triple-crème cheese named Mt. Tam. When I asked the waitperson about the cheese, she confirmed it was made in Marin, across the bridge from San Francisco. I was surprised to learn of this cheese and wanted to find out more. This started my quest for this unforgettable Marin County cheese and the Cowgirls who made created it.
Coincidentally, in 1998 I was living in Washington, DC, and was invited to attend an event put on by the American Farmland Trust. This event was honoring Marin-based Ellen Strauss with the "Steward of the Land" Award. I met this dynamic person and her family. I was so impressed with the rich history of her dedication to organics, being the first organic dairy farmer west of the Mississippi. I was interested in the mission and passion of the Strauss family. It was here that I begin to understand the synergies developed with the commitment of the farm and the cheesemakers from Marin.
It turns out that the Strauss Family farm and the Cowgirl Creamery production facility are separated by only about 10 miles of road along the Tomales Bay! It surprised me to learn that the milk from Strauss was being used to make the cheese I had tasted earlier in the year. Like minds and people with passion seem to flock together. The local terrior of the Tomales Bay, the rich land and the regional attributes that contribute to the unique milk and the luscious cheese really shine through.
I met Sue Conley and Peg Smith, the "Cowgirl's" in Cowgirl Creamery, not long after that event. Both had amazing food knowledge (given their extensive restaurant backgrounds) and both were extremely committed to sustainable foods. Lucky for us that this translated into cheese! The production of the Mt. Tam, that first Cowgirl cheese I tasted, was very limited at the time and I was not able to get it to the stores that I worked with on the East Coast. That did not deter my quest to experience the cheese whenever I was on the West Coast or to continue to solicit Sue and Peg to increase production.
I was thrilled when they won "Best in Show" for their Red Hawk washed rind cheese at the 2003 American Cheese Society Competition and second in the 2009 American Cheese Society Competition. I was very excited when they opened a second facility in Petaluma that expanded their production so that Whole Foods Market is able to feature the Mt. Tam as our premium organic offering throughout the United States. I hope all of you will enjoy this product as much as I do!