Q&A with Amanda Parker of Cowgirl Creamery

Q: Have you always wanted to be a cheese maker? And what drew you to Cowgirl Creamery? 

A: I didn’t always know that I wanted to work in cheese. I grew up loving foods and I was interested in and working in something that kind of combined my creative passions with what ultimately became an interest in the business of specialty food and cheese. But I found cheese by accident as a young professional starting as a cheesemonger at a retail store in New York City and thought it would be a short term position, but ultimately ended up being now twelve years in the cheese industry. And having come from the retail side and moving into the now predominantly making sides, it is an amazing world to be in because it gets to be both that creative and the business components and we get to provide people with some of the most delicious food on Earth. I don’t make the cheese myself, but we have an amazing team that does so.

Q: What is the importance of being organic and sustainable and how does that operate within your cheesemaking?

A: Organics and sustainability are literally the DNA of Cowgirl Creamery. So Peggy Smith and Sue Conley founded our company over 20 years ago explicitly with the idea of preserving the land of the West Marin and supporting organics in mind. So Cowgirl Creamery wouldn’t exist without organics. To this day, we worked with only two dairy suppliers here in West Marin, both of which are certified organic and in fact are working on the next generation of regenerative organic agriculture. So we believe really strongly that this is the way we can help support our communities, our dairy partners, the history of this area, and make some of the most delicious cheese on earth.

Q: How has the idea of community shaped the way you operate a creamery?

A: At Cowgirl, it’s actually one of our primary values. We believe that the good work that we do supports all of our communities. So starting with our own internal teams, you know, as we grow, they get to grow. We’re operating here in Point Reyes Station in West Marin County, where we operate out of an old hay barn since the very beginning and have served this community both from a retail perspective, a food service perspective, and our teams that live and work here in our creamery. And we believe that community is an opportunity for us to give back. You know, we think dairy is a force for good. And we think that if we can support the people in the places where we operate and help our own internal people grow, then we’re all winning. 

Q: What do you hope to convey to your customers through your cheese? 

A: When you taste a piece of Mt Tam, I hope that you taste the land where the cows graze and the air that they’re surrounded by and the scent of eucalyptus and olive trees in the air and Tomales Bay and Mount Tam itself and all of these amazing pieces of terroir. Local focus that goes into this cheese being what it is. It’s a taste of a place, a Sense of being somewhere that has a history and a story and a tie to agriculture and community and roots. And you may not actually taste all those things, but we hope that a piece of our cheese evokes this magical place we call home. 

Q: Why did you decide to get involved with the Conscious Kitchen? 

You know, we met earlier this year, we were talking even more about community and how we think we can continue to expand the communities that we interact in. So when we were looking for people to partner with or organizations that we thought were aligned in the kind of values and mission that we believe we are, we found Conscious Kitchen and thought this is an amazing opportunity for us to extend our reach, to get involved in education around food or on cheese, around how that might impact people’s lives from eating organic and also just participants like participating in the system with us. And we were just really impressed with what the organization was doing. And so we’re excited to be partnering now and hopefully more in the future. 

Q: What brings you hope right now? 

That’s a tough question, but it’s been a really tough year, and I think all of us are trying to figure out ways to bring small moments of joy into our everyday lives and holding space for that while also looking ahead and knowing that this is just one year and one moment in time and we’ll get through this. So, you know, for me, I really take faith in the fact that what we do is a super small part of the world. We make organic artisan cheese. Right. But I think that when we’re talking about those small moments of joy, it’s an opportunity to enjoy something delicious at your home. If you’re at home, which we’re all at home a lot, and again, have that kind of sense of place and know that what you’re eating is a sort of small piece of something big. And it’s something delicious to distract us and bring us joy in a hard time. And also that we’re all resilient and we’re going to get through this pandemic and hopefully be stronger. So when I talk to our people and I think about the long term optimism that I have, it’s a really bright future ahead and we’re just getting through it together. 

Obviously, this year has been an exercise in adaptability and resilience for everybody at Cowgirl, we’ve really focused on a couple of key things. First and foremost, the safety of our employees and our customers. So while that unfortunately has meant that most of our doors have been closed, it also has meant that we’ve been able to keep our teams really safe. For example, our creamery has separated into two completely different shifts so that we’re able to keep our employees socially distanced and still maintain the business of production. We have a direct consumer distribution business through our Website, and that has been a tremendous area of growth for us. So areas of unexpected opportunity have been a good success to keep us going and resilient and happy. We’ve become much more technologically savvy, I would say. So traditionally, we’re not a work from home environment historically, and now we’re able to connect. We’re able to connect to all four of our locations more easily and on a more regular basis, talk more regularly to all of our employees. So having regular town halls and discussions of what’s happening, what do we know, what don’t we know? I focus a lot on transparency as a leader and much of this year has been about what we don’t know. But I think that the flip side of that is to say that, you know, we’re all figuring this thing out together and to be able to move quickly to figure out the next priority without having any issue in our business. Continuity has been a really important part for us. And we’ve been able to have some really good wins. You know, we relaunched our Website just recently, this past month. We’re able to open our doors back up at the stores in 

Q: Is there anything recently that stood out to you as kind of a reckoning moment around climate change and what has been motivating you recently in that regard? 

Yeah, well, obviously, the wildfires have been a reckoning for this area and for us in particular. You know, we have gotten more and more used to fire season, unfortunately. And this year it happened earlier than we expected. And in a more devastating fashion than we could have possibly anticipated. In addition to obviously having to navigate that during the Coronavirus pandemic, it makes us all think a lot more about sustainability initiatives and ways that we as a company can continue to reduce the negative environmental impact we might have. So recently we’ve switched packaging and our e-commerce boxes, for example, we’ve worked on composting as a company. We’re continuously looking to reduce our energy consumption, our water consumption. We have a sustainability task force. And obviously the biggest thing for us has been that our dairy partners are some of the most innovative people in our field on not only sustainability and dairy production, but also ways to actually really use dairy as a force for good and use regenerative practices to hopefully make the land even better than it would have been otherwise. And we believe very strongly that we can be a part of amplifying that message so that dairy is not a negative word. 

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