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Kudos: Cowgirl Creamery

Two decades ago, longtime friends Sue Conley and Peggy Smith started a business together in the little town of Pt. Reyes Station, California. They found a cheesmaking room in the building they were renovating and got an idea. Now, they are the owners of Cowgirl Creamery, the brand behind two creameries, four retail stores, and a selection of award-winning cheeses sold in over 500 stores, independent cheese shops, farmers markets, and restaurants. Sue and Peggy were recently awarded the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs’ Golden Plow Award as part of the 2013 Women Who Inspire Awards. Their book, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks was published this fall.

 

Q: Browsing your website, cowgirlcreamery.com, one gets the impression that cheesemaking is a very difficult, but also peaceful and thoughtful process. How would you describe the atmosphere at the creameries?

Sue Conley: In Point Reyes, where we make Red Hawk, there is peace in the morning, waiting for the milk to arrive, turning on the steamer and the chiller, plopping the previous day's young Red Hawk rounds in the brine, and pumping the milk into the pasteurizer. After the first few hours, though, peace is replaced with activity as the team suits up in whites and Wellies, anticipating the magic of transforming delicious milk into cheese. In Petaluma, where the rest of our cheeses are made, the feeling is the same, but peace does not last nearly as long. We make two batches of MT TAM in succession in Petaluma, keeping a staff of eight on their toes from dawn until dusk.

Peggy Smith: Cheesemaking is a very satisfying craft. It really requires precision, yet that precision is such a long ongoing process, from the receiving of the milk until the wrapping of the cheese, that the maker is in constant contact with the growth. As with baking, it is a measured labor of love.

Q: You’ve recently been awarded the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs’ Golden Plow Award as part of the 2013 Women Who Inspire Awards. What does this award mean to you? What is your connection to WCR?

PS: I was invited to attend the first meeting held by the founders in San Francisco. It was quite impressive due to people that attended that meeting. The idea behind the organization is a great one to this day, and to be awarded the Golden Plow Award twice is quite an honor.

SC: I think that WCR is one of best chef's organizations in the United States at this time. Over the years, WCR has served to increase the professionalism of cooks, chefs and restaurant managers.

 

Q: I understand that you have a new cookbook?

 

SC: Peggy and I have written a book called "Cowgirl Creamery Cooks." We have highlighted the adventures that led us from successful careers in Bay Area restaurants to the development of one of the most respected cheese businesses in the US. The book contains recipes for every style of cheese as well as a chapter on milk and a chapter on building a great cheese board.

 

PS: That was such an undertaking. We weren’t able to include everyone or every cheese that we admire, but we sure tried to give it a shot. The book is not just a cookbook, but also a bit of a journal describing our involvement and some important things that we each have learned along the way. And I want it known, that we have worked with some of the best people imaginable, who have been great collaborators and mentors.

 

Q: Cowgirl Creamery produces an array of award-winning cheeses made seasonally and from local ingredients. How long does it take you to perfect a cheese? How do you know when it is right?

 

SC: Every day is a new day in cheese making. We are always working on improving our cheeses. Our latest cheese, Wagon Wheel, was in development for two years before releasing it to our restaurant and shop accounts. We are still working on it and have kept production purposefully small while we focus on improving the texture.

 

PS: I am still waiting for the perfect cheese. In cheesemaking and in cooking, one of the challenges of tasting what you have created is to think about the possibilities of making it even better. The cheesmakers at Cowgirl, Maureen, Eric, Miguel, Emily and all the rest, are constantly evaluating the cheese and its process.

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