Head north out of San Francisco and keep driving through the beautiful country of northern California. Your mind begins to relax as you ease your way through the rolling hills. The countryside begins to change to breathtakingly tall Redwood trees. The climate drops noticeably as mist and moss become a part of every view. The bustling towns and cities are nowhere to be found and the occasional roadside stops for fresh mushrooms or cold beer mark the miles. The drive provides a change of scene as you weave along the Eel River and a change of feeling begins internally. Calmness creeps over you like the typical morning fog in Humboldt County. This serene northern California setting is the birthplace one of the world’s most recognized cheeses. I do mean the world, not just the US.
Humboldt Fog was literally dreamt up by Mary Keehn and named after the beautiful fog that blankets her home. Mary is a gentle-spirited woman who in the mid-Seventies was raising four children on her own. She was also raising, milking and showing some of the best Alpine breeding goats in the US (four national champions!). It was through raising the goats that she began to consider ways to carve out the time for her children, while making a living and still continuing to work with the goats that she loved so much. Cheese? Mary had always made cheese for herself and the family and there was plenty of milk from the goats, so cheese became a great option. Cypress Grove Chevre was born.
It was during these early years that Mary became great friends with Judy Schad from Capriole Cheese located in Indiana (we love your cheese too!). Encouraged by Chantal Plasse, a renowned French cheesemaker, Judy and Mary decided that they would take a trip to France to learn more about the art of cheesemaking. Chantal exposed them to small multi-generational goat cheese producers. It was by visiting with these cheesemakers and their families, sitting at their tables eating cheese and drinking wine, that both Mary and Judy came away with unique and creative cheese ideas In fact, following this trip to France, Mary had a dream. The dream was a cheese with a line of ash in it. This cheese would eventually be known worldwide as the celebrated Humboldt Fog. That dream was over 20 years ago!
Not everyone liked the cheese at first; it was unlike anything on the market (chevre, or goat cheese, was not a popular cheese at this time) and it had a dark line running through the middle of it. For years the cheese was on the market in key Whole Foods Market® stores in the San Francisco Bay area. I would like to acknowledge the Whole Foods Market Franklin store for providing Mary with great feedback about her cheeses. Our Team Members felt that her cheese was as good as any of the French goat cheeses that were being sold and encouraged her to go after that positioning. But it was not until a 2002 magazine article highlighted the 100 best designs in the world and listed Humboldt Fog amongst art and architecture that she knew she had finally made it.
After all these years Mary is really proud of her new vision for Cypress Grove Chevre. Years ago, as her cheese gained in popularity and renown, she gave up her beloved goat herd to farmers down the road so she could focus on the cheesemaking. But now she is back in the goat business with her own farmstead and a goat herd of three breeds and currently over 150 head. There is great energy around this evolution in the business and from all involved at the cheese facility and the farm. Mary and her team look forward to the educational opportunities that they are now able to provide to the community and the support they can provide to the community of dairy-goat farmers through breeding.
The cheese wheel is a circle and Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog has also come full circle. As we celebrate the 20th year of Humboldt Fog by Cypress Grove Chevre I offer my heartfelt appreciation and congratulations to Mary, her family and her team. I look forward to writing another blog on the 25th anniversary of the cheese!
Have you had Humboldt Fog? How would you describe the cheese?