Here at Cowgirl Creamery, we're always on the lookout for local libations to pair with our organic cheese, from award-winning microbreweries to vaunted wineries, there's an embarrassment of riches in California's North Bay. We're simply smitten with Mommenpop, vivid, aromatic apértifs made in nearby Napa. Crafted from whole organic citrus, California grapes, select botanicals, and a touch of sugar, these versatile adult beverages are excellent served simply over ice.
Mommenpop founder Samantha Sheehan is a pillar of the Napa Valley winemaking community, having started Poe Wines, Ultraviolet Wines, and established the Outland Tasting Room in downtown Napa. She joined our Managing Director Amanda for the golden hour in Point Reyes, and asked her about some of their shared passions over a glass of ice-cold Mommenpop.
How did you get started in food? Tell us about your background.
Believe it or not, I was a very, very picky eater up until about age 20, when I suddenly had a complete reversal of my taste buds and preferences. It helped that I spent a semester of university abroad, living in Bologna, Italy, where I completely fell in love with the intersection of culture, history, travel and food—and never looked back. At that time, I was studying media and was interested in working as a food writer—I did a summer internship at Gourmet magazine—and pursued that path for a few years after college. I was living in New York City working for Martha Stewart when the financial crisis of 2008 hit, and after my department was downsized, I found myself looking for something food-related to keep me occupied. I took a cheese class just for fun at Murray’s Cheese, a specialty food institution in the heart of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and was so inspired by the instructor that I asked for a job on the spot. So began my career in cheese—first, as a cheesemonger in the market at Grand Central Terminal, then moving my way through retail management at the flagship store downtown. In 2010, I was tapped to help roll out a then relatively new partnership that Murray’s was building with Kroger supermarkets nationally—a store-within-a-store concept that established Murray’s-branded kiosks across the country—and spent the next six years traveling America, teaching people about cheese. It was an absolutely fascinating opportunity, both to build this entrepreneurial venture within a Fortune 500 company and to bring so many cheesemongers and customers into the world of specialty cheese. I met Peg and Sue, the founders of Cowgirl Creamery, during a lucky trip to Italy—my language skills from college came in handy!—at a Slow Food-organized cheese festival, and we stayed in touch through industry events over the years. Fast forward almost a decade: I had moved to California to get my Masters in Business Administration and as I was graduating, Peg and Sue were looking to step away from the business and reached out with the offer to become their successor. How could I say no!
What’s one of the things you love most about the Bay Area food scene?
It’s such a cliché to rave about the quality of our ingredients here, but it is so true! I am a devoted farmer’s market-goer and spend a good amount of time thinking about seasonal produce and what to do with it. I love watching the year unfold through fruits and vegetables, celebrating the arrival of new things—it’s almost tomato season!—and cooking as a form of stress relief and joy. I also love that the Bay Area has so many culinary microcosms, with so many talented chefs and makers focusing on specific regional cuisines, dishes or food items—we have so many super-specialized experts, and it’s a privilege to have access to everything from Burmese restaurants and Taiwanese noodle pop-ups to jam-makers, tortilla experts, and bakers making the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had.
Do you have a favorite Cowgirl product? What Cowgirl products do you think would pair well with Mommenpop for a cheeseboard happy hour?
Right now, I’m loving our little Inverness. It’s a small format cheese we have made for years, but we’ve just begun to expand its reach beyond our own store, which has been exciting to see happen. It’s a 2oz organic cow’s milk cheese button, with a lightly wrinkled rind—this comes from the blend of molds and yeasts we use to inoculate the cheese as it’s being made, and it imparts a lovely flavor. It’s a blend of tartness, richness and salinity—like crème fraiche married with sourdough bread and a touch of oyster shell. I would pair it with the Grapefruit, balancing the floral qualities with a touch of bitter freshness.
What is your favorite way to drink Mommenpop?
Very cold on ice! Mommenpop is such a lovely, refreshing drink on its own, but I’m also partial to mixing it with club soda for a low ABV spritz—especially as we head into a hot summer.
You’ve (very admirably) talked about wanting to make Cowgirl a more sustainable company - what are some short term goals that you have for the company to move it toward being more sustainable.
We are very fortunate to have had sustainability baked into our business since the very beginning—our founders started Cowgirl with the mission of preserving the land and agricultural traditions of West Marin. To this day, we single-source our milk from just two dairies, both of which are organic, of course, but who are also practicing really interesting and forward-looking regenerative agricultural practices. Their work with carbon farming, methane emission reduction and innovative feed strategies means that our milk is both high-quality and positive for the environment. Closer to our own business, we’re looking at everything from paper reduction to lower-emission vehicles within our fleet to more sustainable packaging—last year we launched new packaging for our e-commerce shipments that uses fully compostable and recyclable materials. We have so much more to do, to be sure, but we’re proud to keep pushing ourselves to be better.
If you could give advice to 20-year-old Amanda, what would that be?
Stop worrying so much! (Actually, I would give that advice to current Amanda, too…) There is no “right path,” and all your time spent focused on how things “should be” is a waste of energy—your life, your career will unfold in ways you can’t even imagine, and each step will move you forward little by little. It won’t make sense until you look backwards and craft a story in hindsight, so do what you love and be who you are and you’ll be just fine.
What’s the last text message you sent?
“What can I bring on Sunday, friends? I have lots of cheese (of course)!”
Best meal you’ve ever had?
This is such an impossible question! The insalata verde, cacio e pepe and a Negroni at Via Carota in New York. The chilaquiles at El Molino Central in Sonoma. A bowl of rigatoni all’Amatriciana at Flavio al Velavodetto in Rome. The hand-pulled sesame noodles from Shan Dong in Oakland. The corn triangoli and mint chocolate gelato from the gelato cart at Cotogna in SF. The carnitas burrito from La Taqueria eaten in Dolores Park. A morning bun at Tartine. The grilled pizza and baked pasta in the pink with summer corn at Al Forno in Providence, RI. Lunch of meat pies and juices in the extraordinary gardens at Babylonstoren in South Africa. Fried cheese curds at the Minnesota State Fair. The sourdough pancake at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn. The hummus and dukkah—really the whole menu— at Tusk in Portland. A cone of gelato from La Sorbetteria Castiglione in Bologna, the best gelato in the whole world. I once had a Comte fondue and rhubarb tart drizzled in raw cream at the top of a mountain on the border between France and Switzerland, surrounded by summer Alpine flowers and young Montbeliarde cows, their milk destined to make the cheese we were eating—pure magic. Any number of cheese picnics along rivers, in parks, in someone’s backyard or on the floor.
You can follow Mommenpop on Instagram @mommenpop to learn more about their stunning apéritifs and how they make and enjoy them. Stay tuned to our accounts for an exciting announcement later this week!
ABOUT MOMMENPOP: Mommenpop is a line of artisanal aperitifs made in Napa, California with fresh, local ingredients. All Mommenpop flavors are bright, bold, and juicy - made only with whole citrus, organically farmed grapes, select botanicals, and fortified with brandy. Our three flavors range from zesty and refreshing (Ruby Grapefruit), to sweet and warming (Seville Orange), to floral and peppery (Blood Orange). Each aperitif is easy to drink on its own over ice or in a spritz (with tonic water, sparkling wine, beer, or cider), and delicious in higher proof cocktails (like Negronis, Manhattans, Palomas, Martinis, and Americanos).
ABOUT SAMANTHA: Napa winemaker Samantha Sheehan has been making Champagne method sparkling wine, rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Meunier, and Cabernet under the brands Poe Wines and Ultraviolet WInes for 10 years. She’s been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, Food & Wine Magazine, Saveur, Bloomberg, and Punch among others. Mommenpop began as an experiment (Sam wanted to try making a less sweet, dye-free alternative to aperitifs that she loves, Aperol and Campari) and has gone on to be an award-winning line of three different delicious, citrus-forward aperitifs.