Harmony Valley Creamery Association: The Story of What Was, Is, and Will Be

The Swiss Italians settled on the Central Coast between Cambria and Cayucos with their dairy cows grazing on the Estero bluffs in the 1860s. Farmers had switched to raising cattle after the fires and droughts of the 1860s made farming difficult to sustain.

The first dairy in the area was known as the Diamond Creamery. It was located in Cayucos because shipping was centered there on the Cayucos Port Pier.

The Swiss Italians founded the creamery in 1869 in the town we know as Harmony, population 18. The town became a major dairy and creamery producer. At the height of its production in the early 1900s, it was producing 1200 pounds of butter and cheese per day. The dairy building that is standing in the center of Harmony today was built in 1908. It was the decade in which cattle, cheese, and butter were among the most heavily produced agricultural products in San Luis Obispo County. The chapel with its thick stone walls was built to store butter, cheese, and other perishables.

According to town historian Aarika Wells, between 1880 and 1920, San Luis Obispo County produced more milk than any other location in the world. Dairy Co-ops began to form throughout the county. As many as 400 dairymen in SLO County were members of the Harmony Valley Creamery Association. The production grew to six tons of butter and 3000 pounds of cheese per day.

Alan Vanderhorst, a third generation dairy farmer and Cal Poly graduate bought the town of Harmony in 2015 with plans to reestablish the dairy. (See Harmony Valley Creamery.) He plans to revive the long-dormant creamery and open a dairy shop making and selling ice cream and curds. Another historic dairy founded in 1913, Scott Brothers located in San Jacinto, provides the milk and cream for the old style 1950s recipes that Alan is using. The ice cream is made using the Philadelphia method from three ingredients – sugar, milk, and cream – no eggs are added. The ice cream is available at local grocery stores like Spencers and in Harmony at the old ice cream truck in the center of town. Alan also plans to open an artisan cheese shop which he describes as a “nano-cheese shop”. The truck is available for rent at parties and weddings. That should bring “Harmony” to the entire county.

By Brenda Hock and Libbie Agran