Tuesday, August 22, 2017

California Cheese Trail Founder Shows her Love of Cheese Through Yearly Map Printing

--By Emily Anderson

There's a map that cheese lovers can get their hands on each year. It's a map that showcases the locations of dozens of creameries and farms throughout California with a smattering of information on each. Some of these creameries and farms give tours to the public during certain hours, and some give tours by appointments only. And every year, a cheese lover and entrepreneur named Vivien Straus makes sure that this map is printed for the public.

The California Cheese Trail is not a literal trail but is the map itself. Cheese lovers can traverse California to as many creameries as they want - some are in remote locations and others are in more populated areas of Los Angeles - using this map as their guide to scramble across what Straus' entrepreneurial friends called the California Cheese Trail back in 2010. During a Marin County Economic Forum meeting, once her fellow board members realized she'd be a great agricultural representative, the cheese trail idea was created, and they knew she'd be the one to put the Cheese Trail idea in motion.

To start, she invited about 30 people to her home to talk about this idea and to raise money. The map was first printed in 2010 and Straus ensured that 25,000 copies were printed. At this time, they were only available to the public in two counties. Straus receives money each year to pay for marketing costs to print the map and maintain her website. She has a few advertisements on the map but she doesn't profit from this venture. 

Earlier this year, 75,000 copies of the map were printed. 73 creameries were featured. The online version of the map can be found at and showcases only 42 of the 73. People can print their own map online after downloading it as a PDF file - the 42 locations are the ones that are open to the public. The additional ones on the tangible maps showcase ones that are open to the public as well as ones that are closed to the public (available by appointment only). Straus assures that the real map is the slightly better version.

The northern California regional office of Whole Foods Market provided most of the funding for the $13,000 it cost to print the maps this year. Whole Foods Market is one of the few advertisers featured on the map. And while Whole Foods Market does not carry the maps in its stores, there are other ways to get them. The public can obtain these for free at the Marin County Visitors Bureau, the CaliforniaWelcome Center or the by contacting the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. Straus always keeps a few boxes of maps in her car when she's visiting places that might need them.

When asked why the head of marketing for Whole Foods Market of the northern California regional office supports Straus in her efforts, Norma Quon said:

“A few years ago, Vivien approached us and alerted me to the fact that the Cheese Trail Map was in jeopardy because of the costs associated with map printing. I had always been struck by the cheese map’s almost singular focus in promoting artisanal cheese and its encouragement of family farming, in an era when Northern California cheese making is still fairly new. 

Since then, Whole Foods Market has underwritten the cost of printing, both because of our belief in educating the consumer, but also [because of] our desire to support the overall program. Our NorCal cheese producers have worked incredibly hard to bring the highest quality products to the local market in a very short period of time... It’s an endeavor that we will happily continue to support.”

Straus also receives financial resources from the California Dairy Advisory Board for the map's marketing costs.

The California Artisan Cheese Guild is advertised on this years' map. It supports the website. The site attracts 12,000 visitors each month, according to Straus. If people scroll down to the bottom of the home page, they can download a free App as well from Google Play. It is also available on iTunes.

The executive director of the California Artisan Cheese Guild once stated a few years ago that "the project has been an essential marketing tool for the cheese makers." 

Straus is a beloved member of the cheese community. She understands how dairy farms work and she understands how businesses work. What led people to entrust her to take on this awesomely cheesy task each year?

It relates to her roots. Straus grew up on a dairy farm in the town of Marshall, Calif. She left home at age 18 and over the course of 9 years went to college in Portland, Ore., then moved to San Francisco to pursue theater acting then she ended up in New York and then Hollywood. But she moved back to her home town when she realized she wanted to be around more like-minded people who cared about farming communities like she does. She shares her love of the land and specifically, the importance of farming in her way, through the printing of the California Cheese Trail maps.

Straus currently helps run her family business called Straus Home Ranch, which is aptly named because this is located on the farm where she grew up. The ranch features a vacation rental property as well as plenty of space for weddings or corporate retreats. The cows on the property are diary heifers. And having grown up on this farm, she knows the value of hard work and that farms are essential to the community not just because they provide food, but because she was taught to respect land and open spaces. Her mother Ellen Straus founded the Marin Agricultural Trust in 1980 to try to hinder private development. The Marin Agricultural Trust is advertised on her map (free of charge). She treasures the beauty of the California coast ... all of California really, and she holds cheese makers near and dear to her heart.

Straus has met so many people who make cheese and many cheesemakers have ended up on the map.

For example, Keith Adams of William Cofield Cheesemakers in Sonoma County was glad to be on the map this year for the first time. Adams has noticed that there has been an upturn of visitors where he and his business partner sell cheese at an outdoor market called The Barlow in Sebastopol, Calif.

 Several creameries featured on the maps have employees who know Straus well. Over the years, people have felt she has been essential to the cheese community. Straus says the map is a great way for the general public to see more of California if people are taking road trips and that it can be fun for people to learn more about cheese and to see some farm animals.

Companies that make vegan cheese are not featured on the map. The Cheese Trail is truly an ode to dairy farmers and cheese makers who love to share their joy of cheese making with their patrons. 

Straus absolutely does not have a favorite cheese. If she does have a favorite cheese, it's a temporary feeling that depends on her mood. S
ometimes she likes soft cheeses and others she likes hard cheeses. She likes when different milks are mixed.

Straus absolutely does not have a favorite cheese maker on her map, but she values each farm for its own sense of cheese and farming pride. However, she does love that Ramini Mozzarella has water buffalo on site (after all, milk from water buffalo is how real mozzarella is made). She loves that Stepladder Creamery has goats on site and that sometimes visitors can pet the goats. She loves that Achadinha Cheese Company gives private tours and that “if people time the tours right, they can be part of the cheese making.”

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company is another great company featured on the map this year (#53) and has been on the map since 2010.

Hilmar Cheese Company is located in the "middle of nowhere" - though not far from highway 99 - and it is the largest cheese maker in the world. Straus says they have a nice, walkable museum to tour and that it can be really fun to see workers unload 200-pound blocks of cheese. 

This map is her ode to all the dairy farmers, cheese makers, cheese conoisseurs and cheese lovers. Keep grating, creating and celebrating cheese and all it does for our souls and our palettes! 

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