Vero Kherian is the San Francisco-based cheese and specialty food blogger behind Misscheesemonger. She developed her passion for fine fromages as a cheesemonger at the Cellar in southern California and at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco.From the first bite, Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam has a near hypnotic effect on people. Their eyes widen a little, then they ask, ‘What is that?’ as they reach for another sample.
Whole Foods Market’s longtime cheese guru, Cathy Strange, describes Mt Tam’s pretty much universal appeal like this: “It’s slightly mushroom-y flavors, the lovely texture of the triple cream, and the savory aromas. Mt Tam hits all of the senses, and you remember the flavors that linger on your palate.”
To get a sense of how this cheese came to be, imagine yourself driving north over the Golden Gate bridge, toward the rolling hills of Marin County. There, a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, in the shadow of Mt. Tamalpais (the mountain after which Mt Tam is named) lies lush coastal pasturelands where dairy farmers have flourished for generations. This is where Cowgirl Creamery founders Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, chefs with experience at culinary institutions like Chez Panisse and Betty’s Oceanview Diner, chose to set up shop in 1994.
The pair started with fresh cheeses — crème fraîche, fromage blanc, and cottage cheese — then moved on to aged cheeses with Mt Tam, which went national in 2000 with the help of Cathy and Whole Foods Market.
In the tradition of fine cheesemaking, the women at Cowgirl Creamery insisted on a single milk source for what has become their award-winning, signature triple cream. The secret to high-quality cheese is from healthy animals and Sue and Peggy certainly found those at Straus Family Creamery, an organic family farm in nearby Tomales Bay in Marin County.
Serving Mt Tam can be as simple or as complex as you’d like. It’s such a beautiful cheese on its own, I like to just let it warm up to room temperature, and enjoy it with a fresh baguette.
Cathy takes things a step further by cutting her wheel horizontally, then slicing her rounds like a pie, then standing the pieces up like small, jagged cheese mountains. To dress things up, she suggests adding nuts, pears, or candied orange peel to a cheese plate or board.
Sue takes a savory approach with “Ham and Tam,” a sandwich made of Mt. Tam, smoked ham, and some stone ground mustard. Now, with strawberries coming into season, she also suggests serving slightly sweetened strawberries with a wedge of the cheese. If you’re in a savory mood, you could warm it on crostini with sautéed spring garlic.
Ask your local Whole Foods Market cheesemonger about Cowgirl Creamery Mt Tam. Remember, you can ask for a sample at any time! For more ideas on incorporating Mt Tam into your spring menu, check out these recipes: Mt Tam Cheese Torte, Raspberry-Walnut Salad with Mt Tam Cheese, Mt Tam Cheese and Turkey Baguette Sandwiches.