California Cheese Trail Brings Cheese to Your Door
Marin County would be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified for or committed to helping the local agriculture community than Vivien Straus. Not only did she grow up on her family’s farm in Marshall, she also helped her brother launch Straus Family Creamery, where she would serve as VP of sales and marketing for more than 10 years (she is no longer involved with the creamery), and she even coordinated farm tours for Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. While she would eventually go off to college in Portland, Oregon, and pursue an acting career in several cities, including San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, she always returned to the farm. She now lives in Petaluma and manages the Straus Home Ranch on Tomales Bay with her brother Michael.
“Our farm means the world to me — it’s the core of me — I love it,” explains Vivien, who says she feels connected to all farmers and feels she is in a battle to save small farms. This sentiment inspired her to launch the Cheese Trail Map in 2010. Her firsthand knowledge of the many challenges facing family-owned farms informed her decision to create a resource that would not only generate business for small dairies, but also introduce cheese lovers across the nation to California’s artisan cheesemakers.
The map is available both online (www.cheesetrail.org) and as a traditional foldout brochure that showcases small-scale cheesemakers throughout the state. The comprehensive resource that originally included just Sonoma and Marin counties now promotes more than 70 cheesemakers, their locations, the type of cheese they make and visiting hours. Farms as far south as San Diego and north to Crescent City are included. Both the Central Coast and Central Valley are also well represented.
“My favorite thing to do is visit cheesemakers —they are all so unique,” says Vivien, who describes how one dairyman insists that crossbreeding is essential for the quality of the milk he uses for his cheeses, and another who never crossbreeds and sticks to one type of cow for each specific cheese.
It’s not surprising that Vivien’s love of supporting cheesemakers would inspire yet another venture. This time she has once again collaborated with her brother Michael, and together they have expanded on the Cheese Trail to offer the newly minted Cheese Trail Home Delivery.
Their very first delivery in December included a selection of six different cheeses from Marin, Petaluma, Valley Ford and the Central Coast. Along with the varied collection of cheeses, Rustic Bakery’s requisite Olive Oil & Sel Gris Flatbread Bites were also included. In February the delivery service offered a Valentine’s Day Collection featuring local favorites like Cowgirl Creamery’s Heart’s Desire triple cream, Point Reyes Farmstead’s Toma, Estero Gold from Valley Ford and Breakfast Cheese from Marin French Cheese.
“It’s like a very tiny, Harry & David startup, but focused on local and sustainable artisan and organic,” explains Michael, who, like his sister, is passionately committed to supporting farms and like-minded small businesses. “We are learning as we go, but it’s working well so far,” adds Vivien, who has already shipped their carefully curated boxes as far away as Maine, New York and Florida.
If you are looking for some non-holiday-focused offerings for your spring cheese boards, then you won’t want to miss the Big Cheese Collection and Cows & More Cows. Both boxes feature artisan cheeses from farmers along the California Coast who specialize in small batch production. It hasn’t taken long for this specialized delivery service to catch on, and already the founders are working hard to keep up with demand. It makes sense that these siblings, whose name is synonymous with early organic and sustainable farming and dairy practices in Marin County, continue to support the livelihoods of numerous small farms. With their Cheese Trail Home Delivery they have extended their reach beyond Marin and now support cheesemakers throughout the state. No doubt their mother, Ellen Straus, who was a pioneering dairy farmer and a Marin Agricultural Land Trust founder, would be proud.