Petaluma has long been between famous and notorious as first the chicken and now the egg capital of Northern California, but how was i to know that many of my favorite foods in San Francisco were actually from Petaluma?
I’ll start with Clover milk. I discovered Clover milk in the seventies when i was among the hordes of San Franciscans flocking to Guerneville in the summer, which had been a popular weekend getaway spot decades earlier but had fallen on hard times until it was rediscovered by the gays and enjoyed a renaissance.
On the drives to and from Guerneville you were treated to the Clover billboards featuring “Clo”, their own version of Elsie, and outrageous puns like a drawing of her in a green pasture with the caption “Outstanding In Her Field” and the best of all, “Tip Clo Through Your Two Lips”. Another good one was a drawing of Clo in scuba gear with the title “Jacques Closteau” but that one didn’t last too long because he lacked a sense of humor and sued.
I say i discovered Clover milk. Actually, it was Clover chocolate milk, the best commercial version of this staple i’d ever drunk, and i smuggled a couple of quarts back to San Francisco every trip. And sometime in the eighties i discovered that you could buy Clover products at certain San Francisco locations, so i became a regular buyer of their milk, buttermilk, butter, sour cream, and cottage cheese…along with the chocolate milk.
And lo, i now ride daily past the production facility for Clover on Madison Street at Lakeville Street.
I first saw Achinhada Cheese Company in the early nineties when, during a storm, i went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market at its temporary location on Green Street and the Embarcadero. The weather was so bad that most vendors had stayed home, so i was trying to show some solidarity with those who ventured and took pity on a couple of young women huddled at their tiny stand.
The cheese i sampled was called “Capricious”, a well aged hard goat cheese, and i was so stunned by its flavor that i bought a large chunk. Since then, i’ve bought it regularly, and everyone i’ve offered it to has agreed that it’s one of the best cheeses they ever ate. They’re at 750 Chileno Valley Rd. and have stands at many farmers’ markets.
Straus Family Creamery dates from 1994 and was the first wholly organic dairy in the Bay Area. The farms are on the coast in Marin and Sonoma counties, the dairy and creamery are in Marshall, but the business office is at 1105 Industrial Ave. in Petaluma. They are wonderfully retro in a number of ways, one of which being that their milk and cream come only in returnable glass bottles like when i was a little kid before the milk carton was invented. Their delicious products are available in better groceries but expensive enough that i don’t buy them routinely.
Lagunitas Brewing Company dates from 1994, and they make a number of very good beers ranging from a stout that’s a little too stout for me through some IPA’s to a couple of pilseners, which are my favorites. The brewery is at 1280 N. McDowell and gives tours and tastings.
I found Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in the late nineties. They’re really out in Pt. Reyes Station but have a large facility in Petaluma. In the San Francisco Ferry Building, they have a store in which they sell their own cheeses as well as a large variety of excellent cheeses from Europe and the US, but my favorite of all their offerings is their crème fraîche.
It was also in the late nineties that i blundered onto Spring Hill Cheese. At that time, they made a Pecorino that vied with good Italian ones, but i didn’t buy it often enough and they stopped producing it. They still make a very good, full fat quark that they’ve flavored with lemon and too much sugar, but my favorite product is their Jersey butter. My friend Chris is from a little dairy town in northern Germany, and on his first SF visit he spread some Spring Hill butter on a piece of sourdough, took a bite, looked up, and gasped, “Vere did you get dis?” This was similar to his reaction when he tasted a Joseph Phelps Trockenbeern Auslese Gewurtztraminer, as it sure is hard for Europeans to understand that we could have played culinary catch up with the old country. Spring Hill is at 711 Western Avenue in Petaluma and in farmers’ markets all over the Bay Area.
Marin Sun Farms. Their home is on Pt. Reyes, but the slaughterhouse is in Petaluma and they sell their sustainable meats and eggs in Bay Area farmers’ markets. I didn’t find them until the early oughts when they appeared at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market.
I was with Sybil at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market about four years ago when she stopped us at a new stall. When Sybil stops you, you pay attention because it’s gonna be wonderful, and sure enough there stood a handsome young French couple with delicious accents and even more delicious French style yogurt called St. Benoît. It was sold in returnable crocks although it’s now in returnable glass jars and they’ve added a couple more products, including un-homogenized Jersey milk in returnable glass bottles. I don’t buy the yogurt because i prefer the Greek and Icelandic versions, but since Sybil always stops for yogurt, i often get a bottle of that milk so i can carefully pour the cream over things that need it.
Smári yogurt. Smári Ásmundsson is from Hafnarfjörður but as a young man emigrated to California to study photography and became a well known professional photographer. Then just a few years ago he branched out into making skyr (Icelandic style yogurt), discovered a second calling in marketing, and founded an eponymous company in Petaluma at 185 H Street. You have to look at the fine print to learn that the yogurt is actually made at a facility in Wisconsin, but it’s so good that i wrote a panegyric to it as it became my yogurt of choice.
Three Twins Ice Cream – These guys have been around since 2005 but didn’t come to my attention in SF food truck venues until a couple of years ago. The ice cream is delicious and the factory is at 419 1st Street.
This is nowhere near an exhaustive compilation of local food offerings but rather just the ones i was already buying before i moved here. Stay tuned, i’ll cover new local delights in later posts.
But finally, i’ll add the Marin Farmers’ Market at the Civic Center in San Rafael. I worship there every Sunday, as it has many of my favorite vendors from the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market as well as other great vendors who don’t sell at the Ferry Building.
Like Walter Bulk with his Oakdale Cheese products including the best quark i’ve found in this country, a quite tasty moderately aged Gouda, and an absolutely delicious and totally toxic brownie made with his quark. I discovered that quark when he was selling at the San Mateo Farmers’ Market on Fashion Island in 1992 when i started working at Oracle.
And Nash’s Olive Oil. I met Nash Dweik when he was at the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market many years ago, but when the restoration of the Ferry Building was complete, the market jacked up the prices of stalls so high that Nash was squeezed out to the Alemaney Farmers’ Market, which i got to rarely. Still, he has superb cured olives and fine olive oils, and furthermore he has a flock of chickens running loose during the daytime in his orchard, eating bugs and fertilizing the trees. He sells their excellent eggs. I once asked if he gave his hens a final opportunity to contribute to the farm by slaughtering them when they got too old to produce eggs, but he responded, “Aw, i just let ’em live out their lives.” I’ve never felt slimier.
Since i’m going ahead and posting this without more photos of these food places, here’s a shot of a new friend on Washington Creek. I invited him home to lunch, but he flew away before i could make it an offer he couldn’t refuse.