A year ago, I found myself standing (well, okay, hiding really) in a corner of the aquarium exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences. I nervously sipped my gin and tonic, fretting over introducing myself to other attendees of the 2012 FoodBuzz Festival. As I was pulling my coat around myself even more tightly and pretending to be very interested in a sea anemone in a nearby tank, a bubbly blonde woman walked up to me and shouted over the din. “You look just me last year!”
“Oh, how’s that?”
“Standing in the corner afraid to talk to anyone! What’s your name?”
Sheri and I ended up chatting about food, our blogs, and our lives in the South Bay. It turned out that she lived very close to me, and was part of a weekly meet-up of freelance food writers. When she invited me to join the group, I accepted with gratitude. I had just moved back to the South Bay from San Francisco, and had worried about becoming isolated away from my friends in the city. Little did I know that the ladies of the South Bay Salon would become my fast friends. I now look forward to our coffee shop meet-ups each week, where we do some light work and catch up on each other’s latest news.
Last Friday, the South Bay Salon took a field trip up to Straus Family Creamery. It’s located in Marshall, a small unincorporated community in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Straus does not often give tours, but Cheryl’s upcoming yogurt cookbook gave us a perfect reason to come up and visit their operation.
We started our day with a presentation about the Creamery and Dairy. Albert Straus joined us for the presentation, and we learned how in 1994, he converted his family dairy operation to organic, becoming the first organic dairy west of the Mississippi, and the first 100% certified organic creamery in the United States. Over the years, the creamery’s production has expanded beyond what the 300-cow Straus dairy herd can produce, so they have contracted with six other local organic dairy farms as well.
During the presentation, I couldn’t help but be impressed with a couple of running themes – sustainability and transparency. As far as sustainability goes, Straus does many things to ensure the longterm health of the land and environment. To this end, the dairy operates a methane digester that supplies all of its energy (and actually creates a surplus) while solving the problem of CO2 emissions from the cattle herd.
Transparency came up in the form of good business practices when it comes to their dealings with local farms. The dairy farming business is not an easy one, as farmers find themselves at the mercy of feed producers and processors, often unable to negotiate good prices that will sustain their farms. When local dairies contract with Straus, they can count on quarterly meetings where sales and prices are discussed and negotiated civilly and fairly, ensuring that every party is getting their needs met.
After the presentation and q&a, we got to taste some of Straus’ products. We started with a couple of their milks – Barista Milk and Cream Top. It was fascinating to taste the difference between the two. While most of Straus’ milk is not homogenized, their Barista version is pressurized just enough to homogenize the milk.
Next, we tried their butter, yogurt, and sour cream, as well as a group favorite, the Caramel Toffee Crunch ice cream. It came to us straight off the line, freshly churned and semi-soft. The smooth and creamy ice cream made a perfect foil for crunchy bits of salty caramel, made with Straus butter.
Our tastebuds and interests piqued, we headed into the creamery for a tour of the floor where all of the products are packaged for sale. Metal tubes snake their way overhead, carrying different kinds of milk to and from various stainless steel containers. In separate rooms, yogurt is cultured and filtered, ice cream is packaged, and butter is churned. There is hardly any empty space on the creamery floor, and most of the machines are in use every day.
After our tour, we headed to The Marshall Store for lunch. Situated on gorgeous Tomales Bay, the restaurant serves freshly shucked local oysters (raw, smoked, and grilled), sandwiches, soups and seafood. The fish tacos were fresh and tasty, and came with some spicy pickled carrots, my favorite Mexican condiment.
Marin is a gorgeous place, filled with people who are passionate about preserving its beauty and resources. I came away from our tour of Straus Family Creamery with a new appreciation for their ethos and high quality products, grateful to have such fantastic dairy products being made so close to home.