Cowgirl Creamery founders retire after 2016 sale to Swiss company

01/20/2021

The time to retire arrived with the start of 2021 for the founders of Cowgirl Creamery, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith, who started the business a quarter-century ago. “We are very proud to have been part of the development of the artisan cheese craft in Northern California, which has helped some dairy families increase revenue on the farm, and also has helped dairying appeal to the next generation as a career that’s interesting,” Ms. Conley reflected. The creamery’s cheeses—Red Hawk, Mount Tam, Devil’s Gulch and Fog Light, to name a few—are award-winning, and ecological, organic practices have been part of its ethic since the start. Both women had previous careers in the restaurant business; their passion for cheesemaking blossomed after Ms. Conley moved to Point Reyes Station in the ’80s and connected with the local dairies. In 2016, the business—which includes Point Reyes Station’s Cowgirl Creamery and its Petaluma-based wholesale distributor, Tomales Bay Foods—was sold to a large Swiss dairy company called Emmi. Cowgirl would not disclose the price of the deal, but in 2015, the company generated over $20 million in sales. Until now, the founders have stayed on as vice president and president, and continued to own their infrastructure, leasing it to Emmi. Their retirement will not bring many changes: They plan to keep their ownership of the company’s building in Point Reyes Station, and leadership will fall to Amanda Parker, who has served as the managing director over the past two years. Why retire now? “This crazy thing happened: We got old,” Ms. Conley mused.