Hello, my friends! M. Cheesemonger and I just returned from 10 days in Hawaii, which I will definitely write about when I get all my photos and video together! I definitely missed having cheese while there, although we had plenty of amazing seafood!
This week, I wanted to share with you the story of one remarkable member of the artisan cheese community, Vivien Straus. She is a writer, an actress, a cheese and dairy expert, an entrepreneur, and the creator of the California Cheese Trail and California Cheese Trail App.
So without further ado, here is Vivien, in her own words!
Why do you love artisan cheese? What is your history with artisan cheese? I grew up on a dairy in West Marin. I don’t have memories of such spectacular cheese at home, but I have memories of visiting Marin French and being over-the-moon excited about their Breakfast cheese. Much later, my brother Albert, started Straus Family Creamery and I helped him build the company. I was the Marketing/Sales Director for eleven years. I would get emails from struggling dairy farmers all over the world, and I became interested in figuring out how small farms could survive and what suggestions I could offer. I realized then that either transitioning to organic, making cheese or creating another value-added product from milk, and doing something no one else was doing, could set you apart and garner more income, thereby helping keep small farms in business. Later I worked for several years, part time, at Cowgirl Creamery.
What is the California Cheese Trail? It is the only complete source of California cheesemakers. CheeseTrail.org is the only place you can go that lists and describes every cheesemaker in California – from cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo milk. You can not only learn about each company and the people behind it, but also find out how to visit them and where to buy their products. The project consists of a website: CheeseTrail.org, an app (downloadable iTunes and Google Play), and a printed map. You can use any one of these to map a tour of various cheesemakers, no matter what part of the state you live in or are visiting.
What inspired you to start the California Cheese Trail project? I became the agricultural representative on the Board of Directors of the Marin Economic Forum and I was trying to come up with a project that would help local farmers. Sue Conley, one of the co-owners of Cowgirl Creamery, said to me, “The cheesemakers need a map!” I said…”Oh, I can do that!” And that’s where it started.
Why should people take note of the California Cheese Trail? Why is it important to the artisan cheese world? Well, if you’re a cheese nerd, either in the business or “just” an eater, it’s the one place you can go to see what’s happening in the California Cheese world. For cheesemakers that are open to the public or have tours, I’ve been told that anywhere from 30-85% of their business comes because people find their information through CheeseTrail.org or the map. So, it’s a boon to cheesemakers, and by default, to small farms in California, as about 70% of California cheesemakers are farmers, or get their milk from small farms.
You recently won the Berkeley Moth StorySlam, and have been a longtime actress. Do you think your love of storytelling figures into to your love of cheese? What do you think the importance of storytelling is in cheese? First of all, stories are fun! I always wanted to combine farming and storytelling and/or performing. I write my own material, usually for the stage. I’m a bit of a cow fanatic, so I love incorporating them and what I’ve learned growing up on a farm into my ridiculously, dysfunctional, weird life stories. As for where cheese fits into this, well, come on, cheese fits into anything and everything. — By the way, I often serve cheese at my performances. Either that or ice cream. :) [Watch Vivien tell her winning story.]
Can you tell me about the farm where you grew up, that you currently manage? What is it called, where is it? What do people who rent the farm love about it? I grew up on a dairy farm in West Marin about 3 miles outside the town of Marshall (Population: 50), on Highway 1 about 60 miles north of San Francisco. It’s called Straus Home Ranch. For me, it’s the most magical place. It’s spectacularly beautiful in a very romantic way, if I can say that. It’s 166 acres of rolling hills, pasture, eucalyptus and cypress trees, overlooking Tomales Bay. We rent the pastures to a farmer now that has his heifers there and grows silage. We also rent the historic 1864 home we grew up in as a vacation rental and as a venue for weddings and retreats. We give farm tours. We have a community garden on site. We’re hoping to have farm education workshops for kids in the future.
Thank you, Vivien, for sharing some of your many talents with us on the blog, and thank you for creating such a wonderful Cheese Map so that anyone can discover the beauty of California’s farms. Find out more of Vivien’s endeavors in the links below.
Straus Home Ranch:
Phone: +1 (415) 335-6630
Location: Marshall, CA (Tomales Bay / West Marin). Please contact them for address and directions.
California Cheese Trail
App available on iTunes and Google Play
The Moth StorySlam
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