The Straus family legacy

Today the Straus Home Ranch in Marshall is an events venue and home of the California Cheese Trail.|

Few families have had as great an impact on our modern coastal lands as the Straus family. Ellen and Bill Straus fled Nazi Europe during WWII and settled in Marshall, on the Tomales Bay, to begin a life of ranching. They started in 1941 with 39 milk cows, five bred heifers and one purebred Jersey bull, and went on to build a very successful dairy, that eventually outgrew the family ranch and has since blossomed into Straus Family Creamery down the road, run by their son Albert.

Along the way, Ellen and Bill were at the heart of the effort to save West Marin’s open space from turning into yet another sprawling suburb. In 1980, Ellen and a friend co-founded the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, which has become a model for communities around the country that also want to stem subdivision and encourage a healthy relationship with their agricultural roots.

Although the original Straus Home Ranch no longer operates as a dairy, Albert’s three siblings, Vivien, Miriam and Michael, have kept it up as an events venue. It’s also home to the California Cheese Trail, which “promotes artisan cheesemakers and family farmers by connecting cheese lovers to cheesemaker’s classes, events, and tours throughout California.” (If you love cheese, you need to visit There’s a comprehensive tool there for diving tours – or a hard copy can be ordered online or found in local cheese shops and grocery stores, such as Petaluma Market.)

The next event being held at the Straus Home Ranch is a kid’s camp this Sunday, March 26, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This small group camp is limited to 12 children, from 7- to 10-year-olds. Co-taught by Miriam Straus, the camp “is designed for children to discover what it takes to grow their own food and make their own products in a fun and engaging way.” Registration is $75 and can be made by contacting Miriam Straus at or by calling 845-797-9883.

Along with being an avid advocate for cheesemakers and other agricultural entities, Vivien is also an actor and playwright and recently performed her one-woman show, “After I’m Dead, You’ll Have to Feed Everyone,” to 17 sold-out crowds in a row at the Home Ranch. This is “a daughter’s love letter to her immigrant mother, Ellen Straus, a European city kid who finds love on a California dairy and emerges as one of West Marin’s iconic environmental pioneers. It's funny, sad, ridiculous, and was performed in the barn at our farm.”

For those who missed it, she is now offering the video of one of those performances, streamed on Vimeo, directly through her website, either for a three-day rental ($4.99) or for purchase ($25). All proceeds go to support the California Cheese Trail in order to help Vivien continue to support artisan cheesemakers and family farms. Visit for more information.

Bivalve’s Mendonca

Although the Straus Home Ranch no longer milks their own cows, their pastures are still in use, being leased by Bivalve Dairy, makers of one of my favorite cheeses of all time. Although inspired by a traditional island cheese from the Azores, where many of our local Portuguese immigrants came from, Bivalve’s Mendonca has replaced parmesan in our fridge, whether we are looking to grate it or eat it straight.

For those who want to learn more about Bivalve Dairy and their cheeses, farm tours and tastings are back on the calendar as of this Saturday, March 25 – and continuing on Saturdays throughout the spring, summer, and into the fall. There is a Maids of Milking tour at 10 a.m. and Pasture Vista Hiking tour at 1:30 p.m. There is a four-person minimum for each tour, which is followed by a tasting. And you will want to bring your cooler, because after the sampling you’ll surely want to purchase some of Bivalve’s great cheese and butter to take home. More information and booking is available at under the Events tab.

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