California's cheese industry dates back to the Gold Rush when many pioneers who trekked to California brought along dairy cows as a way of supplying milk to their families. In 1860, California's dairy cow population reached 100,000 and the growing milk supply stimulated the start of our thriving cheese industry.
It is believed that the first commercial dairy in the United States was started by Clara Steele, a pioneer woman whose family had settled near San Francisco.
Clara's cravings for Cheddar, which she enjoyed in her native New England, inspired her to make cheese from wild cattle's milk using her English grandmother's cookbook. Clara initially sold her cheese in the San Francisco market and after realizing quick success, she and her husband opened California’s first commercial dairy operation producing butter and cheese. In just a year, the Steele family produced more than 45 tons of cheese from their 6,000-acre farm in Point Reyes.
It's been 150 years since the Gold Rush and today California is the second-largest cheese-producing state in the United States. California is currently home to more than 50 cheesemakers who produce 250 different varieties and styles of cheese that carry the Real California Cheese seal.