Tuesday, March 15, 2011
March Food Excursion: The Cowgirl Creamery Is The Cream of the Crop
This month it was my favorite foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki's turn to pick our destination. Being very familiar with the Cowgirl Creamery I put up no argument at all. In fact, Cowgirl Creamy has been the cheese of choice from day one at our family winery, Dono dal Cielo in Newcastle, CA. I was elated to hear the plans of starting our journey in the beautiful northern coastal agriculture enclave of Point Reyes Station for the Cowgirl Creamy Cheese Tour. We arrived a bit early at 2:00 to scope out all of the cool stuff for foodies at the Tomales Bay Foods center.
Not only does the Cowgirl Creamery have a production facility and cheese shop here but they also have a delicious deli called Cowgirl Creamery Cantina serving up scratch made soups and sandwiches to the many visitors, cyclists and locals passing through. I opted for a cup of chickpea soup that was a perfect starter to begin our day full of taste sensations. My soup was served with some fresh baguette slices but the real surprise was finding whole chickpeas at the bottom of the creamy broth.
The tour began at 2:30 under the direction of Cheryl Dobbins. I snapped this shot of Cheryl describing the region and explaining the rich history of malt which stands for Marin Agricultural Land Trust.
Cheryl wasted no time in serving samples of the most popular Cowgirl Creamery cheeses to us and even demonstrated how simple the basic process of making cheese is right on our table.
In less than an hour we witnessed the basic process of making fresh cheese come to life by adding rennet to milk to cause coagulation.
Honestly I did not know what to expect when I signed up for this tour but I was really pleasantly surprised by the wide range of cheeses we were offered to taste. We enjoyed eight distinctly different varieties:
1. Creme Fraiche – I love this slightly more delicate version of sour cream. It is often just simply paired with one of my favorite food groups, fresh fruit at the peak of its season.
2. Fromage Blanc – Another very mild cheese but with wonderful subtle flavors.
3. Cottage Cheese – The tub in your grocery store just pales by comparison to the Cowgirl's version.
4. Aged Fromage Blanc – Totally different than its fresh counterpart above. I got some real floral essence coming through.
5. MT TAM – Reminiscent to Brie cheese with a buttery triple-cream elegance. In the world of wine it is just sparkling wine and not truly Champagne unless it is made in France. We learned the same goes for cheese when it comes to Brie.
6. ST PAT – Just in time for the Irish holiday this seasonal springtime cheese has a distinctive wrap of green nettle leaves. I loved the hint of artichoke flavor.
7. Red Hawk – Sporting a washed rind Red Hawk was the variety they were producing that day at the facility. It had the strongest odor by far, definitely what is called a stinky cheese.
8. Wagon Wheel – This variety is the newest release from the Girls and my personal favorite we tasted. It reminded me of a fresh Asiago and I could not wait to take some home and melt it on just about anything.
I learned a lot about cheese from Cheryl's presentation. Like how the grazing material greatly impacts taste and that Artisan means a single milk source. And great advice like not using your refrigerator to age cheese. I found the whole cheese tasting experience can be just as interesting and complex as wine. The only problem with Cowgirl Creamery is just trying to choose from their huge selection.
We could not resist taking a spin through the rest of Point Reyes Station which is a town that is built on charm. For a very small town this place packs a large gourmet foods punch like we discovered at Toby's marketplace which one of the many members of the Marin Organic organization supporting local agriculture.
Point Reyes Station is really in a world and era of its own. Don't waste your time trying to find a chain store in this quaint little town. Many of the businesses look like a set for a Hollywood period film like The Western Hotel atop the The Old Western Saloon.
And the rules for architecture seem to be defined only by imaginations like these old bicycle rims and reflective panels that hang from a building right in the heart of town.
While the Cowgirl Creamery was our target stop we certainly could not miss the plethora of other gourmet goodies offered by the purveyors at the Tomales Bay Foods center like this organic display from the Golden Point Produce.
As I was chatting with the lady from Golden Point it was obvious I had more than a casual interest in food. When I told her that we were on a food excursion to sample the local fare she almost insisted we try the flat bread at Vin Antico restaurant in San Rafael. My curiosity completely peaked when she described the food there as rustic so downtown San Rafael got instantly added to our GPS destination list. After all, a stop in San Rafael was completely on our way back to San Francisco for our final destination of this food tour.
The key to food touring is to pace yourself so we opted to split two of their flat bread items. One was just plain grilled and served with olive oil, orange zest and a balsamic reduction for dipping.
But the total flavor overload came from a pizza style flat bread just oozing with Crescenza Cheese, Creamy Leeks, White Truffle Oil and an oven roasted egg. Unreal!
Awaking from our food coma we decided to make haste to our final destination and always favorite food stop, The Ferry Building in San Francisco. Upon arrival we did take a moment to get a photo of it's famous tower.
Stacie's plan was to complete our cheese-a-licious journey with a couple of bites from the Cowgirl Creamery cheese-centric eatery they call Sidekick. After all, it is conveniently located right next door to their store. She had not stop talking about the raclette she tasted during her last visit to The Ferry Building so why not? A raclette is simply melted cheese on top of just about anything you like. We opted for their grilled asparagus and sliced toasted baguette for our base.
Here's a shot of the raclette machine itself. I so want one for my own kitchen!
And here's the Cowgirl Creamery finished raclette with roasted beet garnish. YUM!
Just as you'd expect the grilled cheese sandwich from the Cowgirls is not your run-of-the-mill variety. The surprise here are thinly sliced bites of dill you discover inside the cheesy goodness.
My parting shot is of one last bite of the roasted red and yellow beets to lighten things up. It was a day of cheese overload but I cannot wait to return for an encore with their curds and whey. My acronym for The Cowgirl Creamery is OSHA – Organic, Sustainable, Humane and Artisan. This is truly cheese at its very best.
More Food Adventures:
January - The Eats of San Francisco:
February - A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz
March - The Cowgirl Creamery
April - Confessions of a Sushi Virgin
May - Best of the East Bay
June - Palo Alto Eateries
July - Cheap Eats & Secret Menus