It was about a year and a half ago that Cowgirl Creamery opened its doors, and they have more than earned a place in the hearts of gourmets and cheese-lovers alike since then. More than just a place to find wonderful artisanal cheeses, Cowgirl is a D. C. Foodie's dream when it comes to a wide range of hard-to-find items: salames and other charcuterie from well-known producers like Fra'Mani, Bread Line baguettes delivered fresh daily, even salt-packed capers (so much better than the ubiquitous brined capers found in jars on grocery store shelves)! Throw in a small but thoughtful selection of wines hand-selected by the proprietors, and you've got the makings of a decadent picnic or a killer wine and cheese party.
Cowgirl Creamery is not the typical DC cheese shop for several reasons. First - it's not a locally-owned business. Cowgirl Creamery was started in Point Reyes Station (north of San Francisco on the California coast) in 1997 by two women with DC roots, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith. Thankfully for us, those roots made Washington the site of Cowgirl Creamery's first expansion outside the San Francisco Bay area. And the fact that a number of Washington restaurants (including the Clyde's group) were already featuring Cowgirl cheeses couldn't have hurt, either. Second - Cowgirl Creamery only features artisanal cheeses. You won't find any mass-produced cheeses like Parrano here, though the women behind the counter are likely to be able to offer two or three artisanal alternatives for any cheese you can think of.
On each visit I've paid to Cowgirl Creamery, I've been struck by the presentation of their cheeses. Walking through the narrow store to the back, you are immediately greeted by a long counter covered in firmer cheeses - cheddars, aged gouda, grating cheeses. Passing around to the front of this counter, guests are greeted by a deep refrigerated case holding blues and semi-soft cheeses that would not stand up to room temperature storage. In the far back corner of the room, a separate case holds rounds of goat cheese, clabbered cottage cheese, pates, and cured olives - this one always brings a smile to my face with its assortment of artisanal treats. Previously wrapped cheeses (such as Cowgirl Creamery's own MT Tam, Red Hawk, and the amazing fall/winter seasonal Pierce Pt) can be found in the front of the store with the charcuterie and previously weighed packages of cheeses and accompaniments that are perfect for a grab-and-go purchase.
The service at Cowgirl Creamery is top-notch. Not just knowledgable, everyone I've ever spoken to has been truly enthusiastic about cheese. They don't just offer you samples - they practically force them on you. Questions are welcomed and approached as an opportunity to share something new, not as an inconvenience that slows down the transaction. As you might expect, this can lead to lengthy interactions and occasional backups, but the number of employees working at any given time seems to take this into account and addresses it quickly and efficiently.
Prices at Cowgirl can be a bit higher than those at competitors around the city sometimes, but for me this is offset by the unique complementary products they carry. There is a massive tank of McEvoy Ranch olive oil located just to the left of the cashier's stand, and they encourage guests to sample this deliciously pure California gold. A freezer case behind the register carries gelatti from DolceZZa, a Georgetown purveyor of the Argentine version of this rich treat. It is also justified by their service and their willingness to go the extra mile in helping their customers to discover new favorites that may lie just outside their comfort zones.
The commitment to making and selling true artisanal products at Cowgirl Creamery should appeal to those foodies who wish to encourage and reward producers who are working to preserve traditional methods, and the taste and quality of those products should appeal to just about everyone else. An early arrival in a neighborhood that is quickly developing a character that appeals to both tourists and locals alike, Cowgirl Creamery is still a bit off the beaten path (though just a block away from Ford's Theater and the new Madame Tussaud's, you really need to know it's there to find it). But it's well worth the trip.
919 F Street, NW
Monday through Saturday, 10AM - 7PM