I recently had the opportunity to be a guest on one of the newest additions to the West Marin Food & Farm Tours with owner|operator, Elizabeth Hill. I have had the pleasure of knowing Elizabeth professionally for the past year: Nick’s Cove has hosted her groups for wine and oyster pairings and we have booked tours for our cottage guests. This time, however, it was my turn to be the guest and enjoy the fun.
The new tour, Quattro Formaggio, started at Cowgirl Creamery with coffee and delicious savory and sweet treats as Elizabeth introduced the group to the art of cheese-making, the history of Cowgirl Creamery, a bit of history on the land that makes up West Marin and the Point Reyes National Seashore, including Tomales Bay, some fun trivia about the area, an overview of Marin Agricultural Land Trust (which makes so much of what we enjoy even possible) and, of course a cheese tasting!
We tasted six different cheeses: Crème Faiche, Formage Blanc, Mt. Tam, Red Hawk, Wagon Wheel, and the seasonal delight of Devil’s Gulch. While they were all delicious, each of us had our favorite; my favorite was Mt. Tam. Most of their cheeses are made in their Petaluma facility; however, the Red Hawk can only be made at the Tomales Bay Foods facility in Point Reyes Station as the salty air provides the necessary “it” factor (there are more scientific reasons … but you get the picture!). What we did not taste and I am completely in love with … the Cowgirl Creamery Cottage Cheese; be careful, it’s addictive!
Next stop was Barinaga Ranch with the dynamic Marcia Barinaga. We were blessed with a gorgeous winter West Marin day and from the top of her property, our group enjoyed sweeping views of Tomales Bay and the ocean! We toured the milking parlor and stopped to engage with the sheep for a bit as they nibbled corn from our outstretched hands. We tasted her cheese and listened as she explained her background, love for the animals, operations, milking and cheese making methods.
We were on a schedule, so we packed up and drove down scenic Highway 1, past Nick’s Cove and the town of Tomales. We made a right turn on Valley Ford Road and met up with my friend, Andrew Zlot, owner of DiBufala Dairy, to taste some of his amazing water buffalo milk gelato. If you read my blog you will know that I have already spent some fun time on the ranch and even have a water buffalo named after me. I am excited to announce that she calved recently; born on 12/3 meet darling Clara. While everyone met the calves and teens, I decided to climb in and spend some one-on-one time with this sweet girl. After the tour we enjoyed a light snack of West Marin goodies and ultimately, some of that delicious gelato: this stop, peppermint and apple pie spice.
We said our goodbyes to Andrew, Curtis, and Melissa (and dear Clara) and wound our way West again to a local goat farm owned by husband and wife, Tamara Hicks and David Jablons: Toluma Farms and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. Tamara introduced us to (some of) her goats, her cheese maker, assistant cheese maker; we received a great tour of the milking parlor and then we settled in her beautiful grand room for a taste of the their cheeses: Kenne, a fresh farmer’s goat cheese, Liwa, a delicious bloomy rind and Assa an aged goat cheese. While I loved them all, hands down the absolute best goat cheese I have ever tasted was the Liwa! I cannot wait to start serving their cheese at Nick’s Cove! Tamara was a gracious host and I look forward to more fun with her in the future!
The best part of my day was connecting with the artisans … the people that have a connection to the animals, to the food and to the consumer by way of agritourism. The common thread between all of the cheese-makers I met: passion, vision and dedication. I am in awe of the amount of work and commitment they each undertake every day to produce the highest quality product for people like me to enjoy! What a gift.
We ended the day with a drive back to Point Reyes Station; truly an incredible way to spend 6 hours! As a guest you will gain insightful information about the area, taste amazing cheeses and Italian-style gelato, make connections to your food you may not otherwise be able to make and enjoy fantastic views of Tomales Bay. Elizabeth provides an opportunity to easily access the bounty of what West Marin has to offer in a tangible, creative, expressive way … and she is a delightful host!