Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

The Oldest Cheese Producer in the U.S.

marin-french-cheese-1aBetween the Pacific Ocean and busy Highway 101 that carries thousands of commuters from the North Bay into San Francisco every day lies the lush pastures and hills of West Marin County. Like taking a long nap on a weekday afternoon, a slow drive to find a picnic spot in West Marin is a relaxing luxury.

The Point Reyes-Petaluma road is a winding country drive connecting the oyster beds of the coast to inland poultry farms. Meander down this road and, just past a country firehouse, you find a bucolic picnic area at the oldest continually operating cheese producer in the U.S., Marin French Cheese Company.  

This family owned company was founded when Lincoln was president and California was a new state, in 1865. The cheese factory started with a “Breakfast Cheese” that was destined for the saloons of San Francisco. The 35 types of cheeses offered today (under the label Rouge et Noir) are still handmade and aged in the original hand-dug cellar.

Marin French Cheese Company remains at its original 700 acre location.  Visitors are welcomed to a retail store, deli and a lovely pond-side picnic grounds. On the early spring day of our visit the factory tour, which promised to show the cheese making and ageing process, was not operating. So we busied ourselves with the many samples offered for tasting.

 The historic Breakfast Cheese was delightfully soft, sweet and lightly tangy. We also sampled goat’s milk cheeses both white and blue-veined. The Rouge et Noir label graces a Triple Crème Brie that took the gold medal in 2005 at the London World Cheese Awards. But it was a beautifully aged Camembert, silky in texture with a pungent, mushroomy flavor, that became the centerpiece of our picnic.

There were about 15 varieties of cheese and quark available on the mid-April day we visited. We spoke of returning, perhaps on a warm late summer afternoon, to try some of their other cheeses and relax with a lunch spread by the pond.

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.


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