The Beginning of California Artisan Cheese
The Marin French Cheese Company has produced artisanal hand-made cheese in the same location in Petaluma, California since 1865, and is the oldest continually operating cheese factory in the United States. It began in 1865 when, with a stroke of marketing genius, Jefferson A. Thompson started producing California fresh cheese for a unique up and coming San Francisco market. With the rapid ‘bust’ of California’s Gold Rush, disillusioned would-be miners poured back in to the then thriving port of Yerba Buena (now known as San Francisco), which in turn created a shortage of eggs. Thompson sold this fresh cheese (later to be named Breakfast Cheese) to the Saloons where it was served on the bar as a substitute for pickled eggs, readily consumed by the Stevedores (dockworkers).
To Market by Boat
The cheese was transported by horse-drawn wagon to the Petaluma River and then taken by The Steamer Gold across the bay to Yerba Buena. At that time, Petaluma was on its way to becoming the 7th largest inland port on the West Coast, providing food, supplies, and large amounts of Tan Oak bark used for tanning hides. Subsequently, Thompson Bros. Cheese Company was able to supply more varieties of cheese to the fledgling San Francisco marketplace.
Need For European Style Cheeses
In the beginning of the 1900’s the family branched out in innovative new directions, including organizing the business into one of California’s first small corporations, Marin French Cheese Company. The company grew its selection of fresh cheeses by adding Neufchatel and cream cheese, but in a more significant step, they begin to produce cheeses designed for aging. This marked the beginning of more than 100 years of artisan-crafted Camembert, Brie, Schloss and related soft-ripened cheeses. This landmark event was the beginning of production of European styled soft-ripened cheese in California.
Farmstead to Creamery Helps Neighbors
For the first 65 years the factory maintained its farmstead roots, milking its own herds that grazed on the 700 acre ranch. Pictured above is the original milk barn taken in 1914. In an effort to support the neighboring dairy farms during the Great Depression, Marin French Cheese decided to focus all its efforts on cheese production, so they discontinued milking their own herd and purchased all of their milk from their neighbors. To this day, all of the milk used for production continues to come from neighboring herds, providing us with the highest quality rBST free milk.
Modern Day Artisan Craftsmanship
While our cheeses are now distributed nationwide and beyond by land and air, and computers now play an integral part of everything from production planning to product tracking, we remain dedicated to a rich heritage of artisan craftsmanship that has been passed down through the generations. Marin French Cheese Company now produces more than 40 different styles and varieties of cheese, yet each is hand made the same patient way, one cheese at a time, aged in the original hand-dug cellar, and weighed and packaged by hand.
We have been producing world champion cheeses for almost 150 years, and from our family to yours, we invite you to come taste the difference.