West Marin chef, gardener, and teacher, Elizabeth Ann Hill, holds an ingrained bond with the California region she calls home. It’s a familiar relationship, one that has gone back multiple generations, when her family used to travel by way of ferry and horse-drawn carriage from Berkeley to West Marin’s beautiful Tomales Bay to enjoy the summer months. The region is chock full of artisan food and organic farming, a larger animal population than human, and views that are out of this world. Elizabeth has a passion for the land, the people, and the products that are crafted here, and through this interest, an idea was born.
West Marin Food & Farm tours
, which began in 2012, are packed with flavor, and really the only way you can fully understand is to experience one yourself. The dairy delightful Cheese Lover’s Tour is one of two available through Wine Country Experiences and we wanted to shed light on each delicious element. Boasting visits to three established West Marin creameries, Elizabeth gives exclusive access to private farms and a behind-the-scenes taste of the region’s artisan cheesemaking.
Cheese Lover’s Tour
Available Year-round, Wednesday through Friday, and Sunday
10:30am – 3:30pm
Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods
The adventure begins in Point Reyes Station, where you’ll meet Elizabeth and new, cheese lovin’ friends (typically there’s between 4-7 people in a group) at the famed Cowgirl Creamery. The creamery was founded in 1994 by Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, two women who had been intertwined in the food scene for some years, as a bonus to the opening of Tomales Bay Foods in a renovated barn in this quaint, Marin town. The structure housed a small cheese-making room and cheese dreams were pursued. Over the course of the last 20+ years, Cowgirl Creamery has grown from a modest room and a bit of curiosity, to a heavily awarded creamery with four retail stores, two production locations, and sales being made in over 500 additional retailers.
While this location only produces their pundgent, triple cream variety, Red Hawk
, visitors on West Marin Food & Farm Tours can get an inside look (and taste!) of all their renowned cheeses. As you enter the building, windows welcome viewers to take a peek into the original facility and watch as each step of the process is completed. The tour official begins with munching cheese-centric, baked delights care of Bovine Bakery
and a lesson in past and present farming and food production in Marin from Elizabeth. As soon as the last crumb is nabbed, Elizabeth gets into the good stuff (the cheese, of course) and the group can try the full bounty of regularly produced aged and fresh cheeses, and a taste of their seasonal creation.
Plan on arriving at Tomales Bay Foods early to explore the market and the many goods for sale. The company continues to stay true to their ethos of supporting the community and artisan cheesemaking, and offers over 200 additional cheeses from around the globe alongside their own.
Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery
Elizabeth will take the wheel as the whole gang hops into the West Marin Food & Farm Tours’ van for a picturesque drive through West Marin. Head up the eastern coast of Tomales Bay, where salty, steady waters host oyster farms and unbelievable views of rolling hills and the tree lined Point Reyes National Seashore park. After winding up the coast and heading inland just past the small town of Tomales, you’ll reach Toluma Farms, the home of the Tomales Farmstead Creamery.
The property is 160-acres, but the multiple barns, cheesemaking facility, and beautiful main home welcome you to the farm. Owners, David Jablons and Tamara Hicks, purchased the property in 2003 and worked with multiple agricultural agencies to restore the land in order to properly transition it back to a goat and sheep dairy. In 2012, they completed the final stage of the property’s transformation and started their onsite creamery.
Join the farm team for the day, and explore the in’s and out’s of this dynamic farm and creamery. Step into their milking barn, where you’ll learn how the animals are milked first hand. Then follow the journey, from milk to cheese, at the creamery building.
Your group will take a break to enjoy a picnic, curated by Elizabeth, on the wraparound porch of the modern farmhouse. Now’s the chance to try each one of the creamery’s cheeses, all with names from the Miwok, the indigenous Native Americans from the region. The cheeses are complemented by local breads, charcuterie, and olive oil, fruit, and even a sparkling, honey wine produced just down the road.
Make sure you packed comfortable shoes that you’re willing to get potentially messy. The team at Toluma Farms gives you an in-depth tour, and this includes going in and out of the barns and pens where the animals live and are milked.
Double 8 Dairy
Say goodbye to your new animal friends with a full stomach, and join Elizabeth as you continue to explore the diverse region. The last stop is Double 8 Dairy, a water buffalo farm located in West Petaluma.
This small farm is the home to a growing herd of buffalo and Jersey cows. The farm is a pioneer, as it’s breeding water buffalo for milking for the first time in the United States. Melissa, who raises the animals, will introduce you to the ladies and their calves. You’ll get to say hello, meet these gentle giants, and probably receive a friendly lick in return. Their facilities house a milking barn with sixteen stations, in two sets of eight. Hence the name Double 8. The water buffalo are milked twice daily, so if timing works out, you’ll have a chance to see the full process — from their machinery and facilities, watching the buffalo be milked, to the final crème de la crème — a taste of their delicious wares.
Typically on a tour of Double 8, you’ll have a chance to try one of their delicious, dairy products. This could be fresh cheese or some of their mouth-watering, seasonally-flavored gelato. But if it’s a really good day, you may have a chance to interact with the dairy’s generous cheesemaker, who may share warm ricotta, flavorful buffalo mozzarella, and give you a bit more insight into the creamery’s production.
Book your own West Marin Food & Farm Tours through WineCountry.com/Experiences
, and explore the full list of current offerings.