Specialty Food Magazine

JUL-AUG 2012

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 158 of 207

BRAND SPOTLIGHT start working in your own facility you learn that each cheese has its own idiosyncrasies. There was a big learning curve, but that was interesting and fun." "The places we'd been working as chefs concentrated on ingre- dients and working directly with farms and producers," says Smith. So when Conley began creating their first fresh cheeses she relied on local, organic milk. Learning to make cheese wasn't the only challenge Smith and Washington, D.C., store explains Smith, who herself spent 17 years as head chef at the famed Chez Panisse. "She also worked with Bellwether Farms and other local farms to promote dairy in the region." It was during this time that the two friends began planning a new business. In 1997, Smith and Conley opened their gourmet market, Tomales Bay Foods, in Point Reyes Station, showcasing fresh, local ingredients. The facility also housed a creamery, and soon the two turned their aspirations to adding a cheese line. Ellen Straus, the matriarch of the Straus Family Creamery, reportedly inspired their brand name when telling the ambitious duo, "It's the Wild West out here, so we must be strong, bold and resourceful like cowgirls." To learn the ropes, they worked with a variety of cheesemak- ers, including Paula Lambert of Mozzarella Company, Dallas, and Barbara Backus of Goat's Leap in Saint Helena, Calif. Conley also traveled to Washington State University to take a course in cheesemaking. "We were lucky to be near good cheesemakers so it didn't make it a scary proposition," Smith notes. "But when you Conley faced. Two weeks before they opened their store and cheese- making facility, a bank loan they were receiving fell through, so the duo had to reach out to friends and family to invest. "We were dealing with a local bank but the person we were working with left," Smith says. "It was hard to explain our concept of this little cream- ery with a store attached. Private investment got us through that." For the first few years, Smith ran the store while Conley made fresh cheese—which included cottage cheese, creme fraiche, fromage blanc and quark—in their 1,200-square-foot facility. A year-and-a-half into their cheesemaking, Fonts Smith, a Dutch dairy scientist who came to the Creamery to intern, helped Conley produce Cowgirl's first aged soft cheese, Mt Tam. "The idea was to create something that was accessible to the public. People like creamy cheeses, something like Saint Andre, but we used milk from one herd," Smith explains. The variety quickly became a success. Reaching the Consumer From their earliest days of cheesemaking, Smith and Conley acquired restaurant accounts in and around San Francisco. They would make small batches of cheese at their facility using all local and organic milk and deliver it to clients. "Zuni Café, Chez Panisse and Bette's started buying cheese from us," Smith recalls. "That was so helpful and so BRAND TIME LINE 1997 Sue Conley and Peggy Smith renovate an old hay barn in downtown Point Reyes Station, Calif., where they open Tomales Bay Foods, a gourmet market that showcases local products. The space also becomes home to Cowgirl Creamery's first cheesemaking facility. 1998 Cowgirl Creamery offers its first aged soft cheese, Mt Tam. 2003 Red Hawk beats 616 other cheeses to win Best in Show at the American Cheese Society conference; second cheese shop opens in the San Francisco Ferry Building. 2006 Third cheese shop opens in Washington, D.C., selling charcuterie, olive oil and a selection of wines along with Cowgirl and other artisanal cheeses. 2008 Opens a second creamery, a $1.2 million facility in Petaluma, Calif. 2009 Whole Foods Markets begin selling Cowgirl Creamery cheeses nationwide. 2010 Opens Sidekick, a cheese and dairy bar, next to Cowgirl Cheese shop in San Francisco's Ferry Building. The counter service offers salads and dairy specialties such as grilled-cheese sandwiches and San Francisco egg creams. 2012 Cowgirl Creamery cheeses are currently sold in Whole Foods as well as in 500 other stores across the country. Cowgirl currently distributes artisanal cheeses from more than 60 of America and Europe's most prized producers. 136 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com

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