When I first met Larry Peter of Spring Hill Jersey Cheese Company, it was on a Friday morning at the Sonoma Valley Farmers Market in 1986. I had just graduated from high school and he was selling gourmet potatoes that he had grown himself (his mom was one of the original founders of the Santa Rosa Farmers Market).
In August of that year, Larry bought an old dairy farm, naming it Spring Hill Dairy, and then his first Jersey cow. He started making cheese in June 1997. My daughter and I continued to see him at farmers markets, and one day he invited us for an informal tour of their farm as they were setting up for their annual Peter Pumpkin Patch in West Petaluma, in the town of Two Rock. Thankfully we took the opportunity and had a great time. I can still remember our tour, many years later.
Fast-forward to 2016, and Larry has expanded his cheese production and bought several businesses that support agriculture and local communities. In 2004 he purchased the Petaluma Creamery and added a cheese and ice cream retail shop in addition to his wholesale production and farmers market sales. The Petaluma Creamery is a true landmark and gives economic livelihood to the region by increasing cheese and dairy production.
As of May 2016, Larry Peter produces 22 varieties of cheese, made on-site at his Petaluma Creamery, including cheddars, jacks, mozzarella, cheese curds and fresh butter. You can find certified-organic Spring Hill Cheeses and sister brands Petaluma Creamery and Petaluma Gold in local retailers throughout Sonoma County, from Bodega Bay to Sonoma. Amazing as it may sound, Petaluma Creamery sells up to 500,000 pounds of cheese and 300,000 pounds of milk powder a week. The company also produces ice cream and butter under the certified organic Spring Hill Cheese and Petaluma Creamery brands as well as to third-party dairy brands.
In 2014, Larry purchased the Spring Hill Estate, formerly known as the “Elk Ranch,” located on Tomales Road. It has been transformed from a run-down farm to what is now an event center for wedding and private events. The property includes three homes for vacation rentals and two barns for special events. Personally I predict the new Spring Hill Estate will quickly become a local and tourist destination! I cannot wait to book a weekend with friends, enjoy some Spring Hill Cheese and a stay on the coast.When I heard that Larry purchased the Washoe House a little over a year ago, I was not surprised in the least, as he is a bit of a businessman with a taste of philanthropy—and is very generous to our community. When I see a long-time dairy farmer purchasing a restaurant, I see someone looking to preserve a bit of Sonoma County history and a local treasure of a tavern.
The Washoe House is a true West Sonoma County tavern. When you pull up, you will notice all the farmers’ trucks. The Washoe House is located in West Petaluma, close to the highway, yet just far
enough off the beat that it is a local bar, with beer on tap, a few wines and a full bar. Not once have I ever stopped in and not run into a local dairy farmer. I have had many meetings at the Washoe House to discuss dairy, cheese, yogurt, the future of Sonoma County agriculture and all things ag. Just last month, a group of local Sonoma County Lady Farmers, “The Rural Chicks,” met up for a fun evening of food, friends and agriculture. Larry and his long-time partner Diane Starkey were the most gracious hosts to our group, including serving us fried chicken. We had the most bountiful buffet, really great service and will be regulars from here on forward.
When I think of a dairy family, I think of hard-working people who typically labor 12 hours a day, in addition to volunteering in their community—and Larry and Diane are that type of dairy farmer. Larry is active with the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, Sonoma County 4-H and Sonoma County Farm Bureau to mention a few. He is the type of guy whose goal in life is “to leave this place a little better than we found it.” And Larry is doing a great job! You will find Larry’s cheeses served at numerous fundraisers, and Spring Hill Cheese is a member of The Sonoma County Cheese Trail. When you add that all up, it is a full plate.
When your schedule allows, make a day trip to visit the Petaluma Creamery and have lunch or dinner at the Washoe House—you will not regret a moment. Bring a cooler: I promise you, you will leave with lots of cheese and butter for your home, and you will need a place for your leftovers after lunch or dinner at the Washoe House. Enjoy your day in West Petaluma. This is one of my husband’s and my favorite day trips and we cannot wait to add a stay at Spring Hill Estate this summer. SD
Organic Mike’s Firehouse Curds
Created by Sheana Davis
Yields 4 cups Cheese Curds
4 cups of vegetable oil
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 whole Petaluma eggs
8 oz of Henhouse lager beer
8 ounces Fireman Mike’s Cheese Curds at room temperature
Over medium heat, in a large pan, heat oil as you prepare batter. Heat and maintain oil at 375 degrees.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and add in the beer. Gently fold together the wet mixture with the flour mixture and mix until smooth.
Dip curds in the batter, place in oil and fry until golden brown. Repeat with remaining cheese curds. Serve warm and enjoy with a glass of Henhouse Brewing Company Ale.
Sage Cheddar Quiche
Created by Sheana Davis
Yields one 8-inch quiche
2 cups sweet red onion
2 tablespoons Spring Hill Jersey butter
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh sage
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 unbaked pastry shell (9 inches)
1 cup grated Spring Hill Jersey Sage Cheddar Cheese
4 Petaluma eggs
12 ounces whole whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large skillet, over medium high flame, sauté onions in butter until translucent. Stir in sage, thyme, salt and pepper. Spoon into pastry shell. Sprinkle with cheese.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and cream together. Pour over cheese. Place pie pan on a baking sheet and place in oven and bake 20-25 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from oven, allow to rest 10 minutes before serving. Serve with a glass of Petaluma Hills Brewing Company Red Tag Ale.