Food History

From 2 Goats to Churning Out Award-Winning Cheeses—the Story of Cypress Grove

Humboldt Fog fans, this one’s for you.

June 30, 2021

We’ve teamed up with Cypress Grove to share the story behind their award-winning goat cheeses—from the iconic Humboldt Fog to new favorites like their smooth and buttery Little Giant.

Most cheeses aren’t conceived of in dreams, but that’s exactly how Cypress Grove’s fan-favorite Humboldt Fog came about.

Founder Mary Keehn was returning from a research trip to France, and as she slept on the flight, she had a clear vision: a cheese that looked like a cake, with downy white mold atop a layer of ash, both surrounding the cheese and running through the middle. The thick line of ash called to mind the dense bank of fog that comes across the ocean and drapes the coastline of Humboldt County, California—which would become Cypress Grove’s home.

Cypress Grove opened their creamery in 1983, but the story actually starts before that—with Hazel and Esmeralda, Mary Keehn’s first goats. She had moved to Humboldt County and was leading a back-to-the-land life during a time when others were caught up in the allure of prepackaged, processed convenience. Keehn’s next-door neighbor had a cow dairy, along with goats for brush control, and, in search of a steady milk supply for her children, she asked whether she could buy a couple goats. Keehn’s neighbor grinned and told her that if she could catch them, she could have them. So she did.

Keehn quickly went from owning two goats to four goats and then many more, joining the Humboldt County Goat Club. When she took home the top prize at the National Goat Show not soon after (without any purebred goats!), she decided to go all in, and it wasn’t long before she had a herd 50-strong. But selling goat milk alone wasn’t enough to put all of that milk to good use, so she started making cheese—initially in her own kitchen, then in a facility she built down the street.

In those early days, quality control was limited to determining whether the cheese looked, smelled, and tasted right. Today, quality control is a much more involved process, accounting for everything from air humidity to the pH levels of the cheese. That attention to detail and quality has paid off; Cypress Grove cheeses are award-winners multiple times over. This is even more impressive when you consider their humble beginnings: The first time she went to the Fancy Food Show, an event for specialty food producers to connect with buyers across the country and beyond, Keehn arrived with the cheeses carefully tucked into her purse.

Even though their cheeses are as exceptional as anything you’d find in France, Cypress Grove has never been concerned with making cheese the way others do. This is reflected in their whole approach, down to the smallest detail—especially when it comes to their flavors. For instance, they were one of the first cheese makers in the U.S. to combine real Italian truffles with a soft-ripened cheese (which we know and love as Truffle Tremor) and create a fresh cheese with lavender and fennel pollen (called Purple Haze).

But this innovative spirit doesn’t mean they shut out the rest of the industry—quite the opposite. The American goat dairy industry is still in its infancy compared to its European counterparts, meaning many goat farmers have to rely on trial and error. That has inspired Cypress Grove to learn from countries where goat husbandry is more advanced and animals are treated humanely, with lots of space, fresh air, and good food. These learnings have helped them design and manage the best dairy possible—with the health and happiness of their herd at the forefront—and realize the importance of supporting the goat industry as a whole.

Home to more than 1,200 goats that all have seasonal access to lush pasture and well-ventilated, naturally lit indoor areas, Grovers (Cypress Grove’s name for their team members) jokingly refer to the dairy as “the country club.” Nothing about this thoughtfully designed dairy is a joke, though—the American Humane Association has endorsed it as humane-certified with a 100 percent score three years running. And while 1,200 is a lot of goats, this herd supplies only a fraction of the goat milk needed to keep Cypress Grove’s cheese-loving customers satisfied, so they also work with partner farms, all of which are either humane-certified or embrace humane practices.

Some elements have worked naturally in Cypress Grove’s favor when building their dairy, like being situated right on the coast of California—the ocean buffers extreme temperatures, so the goats enjoy a temperate climate year-round. Others have taken more time and intention, like implementing state-of-the-art technology. Their equipment gathers data on the whole farm, enabling the team to make predictions, prevent illnesses, and catch things before they become issues. Best of all, they’re determined to share what they learn along the way with the industry as a whole.

Cypress Grove is a trailblazer in this respect, making major contributions to fellow American goat dairies by sharing expertise on everything from data management to raising kids (aka baby goats). This is significant, because the goat industry needs all the support it can get. Cow dairies benefit from government funding and subsidies, as well as the marketing efforts of state associations, but goat and sheep dairies aren’t included in those programs. Cypress Grove has been able to conduct small research studies with partners like the University of California–Davis, but they’d love to see more of it, which would benefit the entire industry. Even without the level of monetary support that their bovine counterparts receive, Cypress Grove is setting a new standard of excellence in the U.S. and attracting new goat dairy advocates, all while enjoying exceptional herd health and higher milk production per head than any other commercial goat dairy in the U.S.

To be turned into cheese, all the milk those country-clubbing goats produce has to move on to the Cypress Grove creamery, set on an 18-acre piece of land that used to be home to a cow dairy. Though it was neglected when they acquired it, major investments have revitalized the structures and the land itself, with a focus on eco-conscious practices and construction. Half of the parcel has been committed to open space, and Cypress Grove has greatly improved the land by implementing a low-impact landscape design, removing invasive vegetation, building nesting boxes to restore tree swallow populations, and creating an edible walkway of fruit and nut trees along the edge of the property. Also on the sustainability front, they’ve recently invested in sustainable packaging for their direct-to-consumer shipments and plan to complete a solar panel installation project by early next year.

Their focus isn’t just on green initiatives—it’s also, of course, on the cheese. Cypress Grove makes fresh goat cheeses, which is what many of us think of when we hear “goat cheese” or “chèvre,” but they make a ton of other kinds as well. Humboldt Fog is a soft-ripened cheese, as is Little Giant, a new addition to the lineup. One of the most popular and recognizable of the cheese aisle offerings, Humboldt Fog is known for its gray line of vegetable ash, which is odorless, tasteless, and completely edible. But it’s not just there for aesthetics: The ash increases the pH of the naturally acidic goat cheese and encourages mold growth on the outside of the cheese, otherwise known as the rind, in a process called blooming.

So what exactly are these cheeses like? Little Giant might be small in stature (clocking in at just four ounces), but its impact is powerful: mild yet bright, with mushroomy notes and hints of yeasty, freshly baked bread. Humboldt Fog has the tang of buttermilk, the richness of fresh cream, and a clean citrus finish, and it’s a great gateway goat cheese for Brie-lovers or anyone who thinks they’re goat cheese-averse. Midnight Moon is another good introduction to goat cheeses for fans of Gouda or cheddar. This aged type has a dense, smooth texture and a nutty, brown-buttery flavor. Bonus for my fellow vegetarian friends: All Cypress Grove cheeses are made with microbial rennets, making them vegetarian-friendly.

You can eat the rinds on all of Cypress Grove’s soft-ripened cheeses—and you should! The rind adds textural contrast to the interior paste of the cheese, plus fantastic flavor. That said, Cypress Grove encourages folks to eat their cheese however works best for them. So if you don’t like the rind, don’t eat it. (Also, it goes without saying to never eat any cheese rinds that include things like tree bark, wax, or cloth, right? Okay, cool.)

And how exactly should you be eating these cheeses? This is the fun part. You could start by savoring wedges alone or with a carb vehicle like sourdough starter crackers. Then, move on to a loaded cheese board or a cheesy broccoli salad. You could even incorporate them into your weekly pizza night (think: Humboldt Fog with asparagus coins, tarragon oil, and a dusting of lemon zest; or Little Giant with blackberries, figs, and honey). And the next time you have a big gathering and want to go all out, you might treat your guests to a three-layer celebration cheese “cake” starring tiers of Humboldt Fog and Truffle Tremor. For those who prefer savory to sweet, a slice from this cake will beat a baked confection any day of the week.

However you decide to enjoy them, Cypress Grove’s dedication to the highest standards will shine through with every bite of their uniquely American cheeses.

Do you have a favorite Cypress Grove cheese? Tell us in the comments!

Whether you’re putting together a showstopping cheese board or whipping up a weeknight goat cheese pizza, the award-winning goat cheeses from our friends at Cypress Grove are fridge must-haves. All of Cypress Grove’s cheeses—from longtime favorites like Humboldt Fog and Midnight Moon to the new Little Giant—are crafted with care in Humboldt County, California, using milk from humanely raised goats.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jana
  • KLS
  • Carla Fisher
    Carla Fisher
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Jana September 14, 2021
I fell in love with Humboldt Fog in Humboldt, when my daughter was attending Humboldt State and I was up visiting her. Her roommate worked at the dairy and gave me a large round of it to take home after I tasted it. When I'd go back, I would buy as much as I could at Wildberries and bring it home to savor for weeks. I can buy it here, but it's soooo expensive and it's just better from up there. Sadly after she moved from the area I wasn't able to go up there anymore and buy it at Wildberries, but Safeway has it. used to raise goats myself but never made more than yogurt or soft cheese, like cottage cheese. I love all of them, especially Purple Haze, but HF is my go-to and I always have some in the fridge. ALWAYS!!! I
KLS July 1, 2021
OMG! Just the best cheese ever! So glad you have featured them. Gave Humboldt Fog cheeses for Christmas last year and everyone just loved them!
I was not aware of all these things that Cypress Grove is doing environmentally other than they take great care of the goats, but I'm very glad to learn about all the great things they are doing.
Carla F. June 30, 2021
Do I have a favorite Cypress Grove cheese? That's like asking if I have a favorite child. Every one of the Cypress Grove cheeses I've tried--and I've tried almost all of them--are wonderful. One of the things I most appreciate is the one-ounce packaging. I'm the only cheese-hound in the house, so the small sizes allow me to have fresh cheese whenever I want. And reading about their practices makes me even more fond of them!