The Story of Here:
Bringing French Cheese Home to Marin

As the oldest cheese company in the United States, tradition and history are as much a part of Marin French Cheese Co. as the cheeses we make. Every single wheel, from our beloved Petites to our striking Golden Gate, represent over 150 years of French-style cheesemaking and experience and Marin County history.

Marin French Cheese Co. historical product assortment
Marin French Cheese Co. historical product assortment

Since the very beginning — which for us is all the way back in 1865 — we've known that there's something special about Marin. In cheesemaking terms, that je ne sais quoi is called "terroir," which encompasses every aspect of the environment around our creamery. Our rich soil, hilly terrain, and mild climate create ideal conditions for dairy farming, giving the milk produced here a unique and incredibly delicious flavor profile -- which comes through in the taste of every cheese we make. As our cheeses age and ripen, they're further imbued with the same Marin magic (for one, our Golden Gate's striking red-orange rind comes from the Brevibacterium linens cultures that occur naturally in the coastal air). These cultures are part of the living history of our creamery, and serve as a thread that ties the soft-ripened cheeses we make today to the cheeses we've made throughout our long history.

Despite our name, we didn't start out as experts in the finer points of French cheesemaking. Our techniques have continuously evolved over the course of our 150-year history, and so have the cheeses we produce. This is the story of how we brought classical French techniques home to Marin County, California.

Our Origins in Marin County

The story of Marin French Cheese Company begins over 150 years ago with 700 acres of farmland and a cheese you might recognize. Jefferson Thompson, a dairy farmer from Illinois, bought a West Marin dairy ranch in 1865 and started making cheese with the leftovers from butter making. When an influx of former Gold Rush miners arrived on San Francisco Bay docks looking for work, the sudden population boom caused an egg shortage — so Thompson started making a fresh, unaged cheese to meet the sudden need for a breakfast protein. If you've ever wondered how our Petite Breakfast got its name, well, now you know!

About 30 years later, Jefferson's sons Jeff and Rudolph took over the family business and began learning basic French cheesemaking techniques from French-born Petaluma cheesemaker Louis Cantel. In 1904, Jeff went to the University of Connecticut to study advanced French cheesemaking techniques in-depth, where he learned to make Brie, Camembert, Neufchatel, and other French-style cheeses. Jeff's time in Connecticut would prove to be a turning point for the company: The Thompson family began producing and selling their first Camembert as soon as Jeff returned to the creamery. Nearly 120 years later, we're still making this iconic French-style cheese! By the end of the 1920's, Marin County was producing more cheese than any other California county — in no small part thanks to the Thompson family.

In the years following World War II, soldiers returned home with a newfound taste for European cheese — and Americans became increasingly interested in soft-ripened cheeses. Over the next five decades, the cheese factory continually expanded to meet rising demand. In the late 1960's, the factory opened a dedicated cheese shop and extensive picnic grounds, becoming an attractive destination for locals and tourists alike. By 1975, Marin French Cheese Co. was the third most popular tourist attraction in Marin (behind Muir Woods and Frank Lloyd Wright's Marin Civic Center). To this day, our factory, cheese shop, and picnic grounds are cornerstones of the community and popular tourist destinations.

Marin French Cheese Co.'s original aging room
Marin French Cheese Co.'s original aging room

Marin French Cheese Co. remained a Thompson family operation until 1998, when the company was sold to Jim Boyce, an organic cattle rancher and cheese lover. Jim headed Marin French Cheese Co. from 1998 until his death in 2010; during that time, he would be hugely influential in shaping the company into what it is today.

A New Era for Marin French

The creamery reached new heights under Jim Boyce's leadership. Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, Marin French Cheese Co. modernized and expanded our operations without sacrificing our extremely high standards.

Jim believed strongly in Marin's unique terroir, and he was passionate about bringing a "taste of place" to our cheeses. This was central to his vision for the company: As Marin French's product range gradually expanded to include unique specialties and flavored cheeses in addition to well-known classics, our environment itself served as our chief inspiration. (Fun fact: Jim Boyce also introduced our signature line of 4oz Petite cheeses, which remain beloved favorites to this day.)

In 2005, all that investment and hard work paid off when Marin French's Triple Crème Brie won both gold and Best in Show in the Brie-style category at the World Cheese Awards. This was a huge achievement: Not only was this our first time winning gold on the world stage, it was the first time a U.S. cheese bested European offerings at this worldwide competition. Then, we did it again in 2010.

From our humble beginnings as a small-time creamery run by a family of cheese first-timers to our current status as world-class French-style cheesemakers, Marin French Cheese Co. has always been guided by a single, simple goal: To make the best possible cheese from Marin County milk. As we look to the future, it remains as good a goal as ever. There's nowhere on earth quite like Marin -- and there's no cheese quite like ours.