Spring Hill Jersey Cheese founder revives century-old Petaluma facility, brand

  • 1 of 1--Larry Peter resurrected the historic Petaluma Creamery is cheese is being made there again. June 11, 2008. the Press Democrat / Jeff Kan Lee

For the first time in four years, the smell of cheese again wafts through the historic Petaluma Creamery.

Dairyman Larry Peter, who bought the nearly century-old production facility in 2004, is now fulfilling his dream of making gourmet cheese for supermarkets with milk from Sonoma and Marin dairy farms.

Over the past decade, Peter established his credentials by crafting modest quantities of organic artisanal varieties under his Spring Hill Jersey Cheese brand. Now, Peter is making a bid to get into supermarket chains, restaurants and food distributors with larger volumes produced under the Petaluma Creamery brand.

"We're going to build the Petaluma Creamery brand," Peter said. "I have to. I don't have any choice."

Peter borrowed $10 million to refurbish the west Petaluma creamery he purchased in 2004. It costs $6 million annually to run the 5-acre complex, which contains plants to dry milk and produce cheese.

So far, dried milk production has been paying the bills. Cheese is Peter's passion, however, and the more he makes at the creamery, the more milk he hopes to buy from North Bay dairy farmers.

"I had to resurrect it. The whole thing is keeping the milk coming from Sonoma and Marin counties," Peter said.

The creamery established by Sonoma and Marin county dairy farmers in 1913 processed milk produced by herds in the region until 2004, when Dairy Farmers of America closed the plant.

After hearing of the closure, Peter went to the creamery seeking a secretary for his Spring Hill dairy farm and cheese business. Six months later, after putting together a business plan and obtaining a federal small-business loan, he purchased the creamery.

Ambitious plan

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