There are few American cheeses that hold the same clout as their European counterparts. But Cowgirl Creamery, the renowned Bay Area fromagerie, creates cheeses of world-renown. Co-founders Sue Conley and Peggy Smith have been formal leaders of the New World artisan cheese movement since 2010, when they were inducted into the prestigious Guilde des Fromagers. And lucky for us, their cheeses can easily be found in many grocers nationwide, including Whole Foods.
A spread of Cowgirl Creamery’s signature cheeses is the perfect start to any picnic or dinner party. But to really wow, nothing’s better than finding a perfectly paired wine for each unique cheese. Here are our top picks.
Mt Tam Triple Cream
This is one of Cowgirl’s most famous cheeses. The sinfully creamy Mt Tam, named after Mount Tamalpais that looms over San Francisco Bay, is crafted as a classic triple cream. What makes this a stand-out is its “fudgy” core that’s almost reminiscent of a slightly firmer goat cheese, though only cow's milk is used. The contrasting textures of the bloomy rind, the buttery brie, and the firmer core make this organic cheese downright luscious.
As an ode to the single-source, forage-based milk from Marin County used to craft Mt Tam, we’re pairing this with Dutton-Goldfield’s 2018 Devil’s Gulch Chardonnay from Marin County vineyards. Devil’s Gulch Vineyard is located in Western Marin County, just south of Sonoma yet known for its harsh coastal climate. This vineyard is renowned for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay plantings, which produce limited, tiny grapes. The wines are therefore rich and concentrated, with naturally high acidity preserved from cool summer days, and ripeness achieved from the region’s long growing season. The unique combination of fruit intensity and crisp acidity make this Chardonnay the perfect match for Mt Tam’s creamy texture, yet understated flavor profile.
Red Hawk Triple Cream
Cowgirl dedicates their original creamery solely to the creation of the iconic Red Hawk Triple Cream. Point Reyes Station Barn, where Cowgirl Creamery was founded, is home to this organic, funky, washed rind triple cream, named after the similarly colored red-tailed Hawk that graces the coastlines over Marin’s Headlands. Deemed the “funky cousin” of Mt Tam, the golden-hued rind comes from a four week brine wash. The resulting flavor profile is savory, meaty, and pungent, garnering acclaim as Cowgirl’s best cheese.
The Creamery uses organic, single-source, forage-based milk from West Marin to make Red Hawk, which we think pairs perfectly with De Loach’s 2017 Marin Pinot Noir from Marin County. Garnering 93 points from Wine Enthusiast, this Pinot Noir retains much of its delicate fruit aromas, like black cherry, strawberry, and cranberry, due to its cool maritime climate. Layers of baking spices add richness, offering a warm background for Red Hawk to shine against.
Chimney Rock (fall-release)
Chimney Rock is Cowgirl’s limited fall-release cheese, available now for purchase. It’s a single-source bloomy rind cheese that’s coated in West Marin’s local autumnal herbs, including summer savory, black pepper, and organic ground shiitake mushrooms. A creamy core melds with an earthy, savory rind, producing an organic cheese of delightful contrast.
We’re pairing this seasonal stunner with a local favorite - McEvoy Ranch’s 2014 Red Piano Syrah. Hailing from Marin County’s cool climate Petaluma Gap, this wine is closer akin to the Rhône style than typical New World Syrahs. The floral nose is perfumed with cranberry, black tea, and pepper, with notes of earthy mushroom and leather. Rich yet elegant, the palate of this coastal Syrah pairs perfectly with Chimney Rock, confirming the ever wise saying “what grows together goes together”.
Devil’s Gulch (winter-release)
This cheese is as striking to look at as it is to eat. Cowgirl’s winter seasonal release features a white bloomy rind encrusted with dried red heirloom peppers from a nearby producer for a festive white-on-red color palette. The buttery, creamy cheese gets a pop from the sweet and spicy pepper flakes, so it’s party ready.
Cowgirl recommends pairing Devil’s Gulch with a lighter dessert wine, and we think the iconic Far Niente Late Harvest Dolce does the job perfectly. Crafted with Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc in the style of great Sauternes, Dolce is Napa’s darling dessert wine. It’s bouquet is dominated by honeysuckle, sweet spice, and orange blossom, with enough acidity to keep this sweet wine from being cloying. It’s the perfect contrast for this spicy seasonal cheese. Look out for its release in the coming months.
Wagon Wheel is an aged washed rind cheese that’s the key ingredient used in Cowgirl’s famous house grilled cheese. It’s nutty and supple as a snacking cheese, a good introduction to the Creamery if you’re not a cheese connoisseur. Deemed “Liquid Gold” when melted, it’s the perfect cheese to use in mac-and-cheese, on burgers, or even in fondue.
With its rich, firmer texture, this cheese can stand up to a richer red, like Armida’s 2017 Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Zinfandel. This cool climate Zinfandel hails from a renowned Sonoma Coast vineyard, specifically from a southern-facing 1.5 acre block that’s sunny enough to allow the grapes to ripen fully. Past vintages of this wine have received high accolades, deeming the wine “muscular” yet appropriately acidic. Zinfandel’s peppery character is a natural match for a firm, hearty cheese like Wagon Wheel.