Fourteen cheeses in a couple of hours! –This was a true fromage-orama.
At the communal table in the restaurant Sitka and Spruce, Sheri LaVigne of The Calf & Kid started us off with small offerings of fresh chevre and sheep’s-milk ricotta, then took us on a clockwise tour of a plate of twelve cheeses, from soft-ripened to washed-rind to semi-firm and hard, finishing with a couple of blues. Oh, and along the way, she gave us a concise history of a couple of millenia of cheesemaking and cheesemakers!
What were my favorites?–It’s really hard to choose. Between the two “fresh” cheeses, I preferred the plain chevre from Briar Rose Creamery (Dundee, OR)–a very light, fluffy goat cheese. Among the four “soft-ripened” cheeses we tasted, The Le Pommier Camembert (a cow cheese from Herve Mons in Rhone-Alps, France) was beautifully mushroomy and earthy; its aroma just bloomed in my head.
Between the two “washed-rind” cheeses, I’d choose the Oma (raw cow’s milk cheese from Cellars at Jasper Hill, Von Trapp Farmstead–yes, those Von Trapps, Greensboro, VT)–an unusual grassy flavor that I really liked.
(Sidebar: the whole question of the rind on cheese turns out to be a study of its own! But “washed-rind” means just what it says–the cheesemaker washes the surface of the cheese roughly weekly during the aging process with a brine solution or alcohol.)
The “semi-firm” cheeses were nice but not as striking or unusual as some of the others. The “hard” cheeses were both cheddars, and very tasty, but the news here was that “cheddar” is also a verb! In “cheddaring,” the cheese block (hunk? batch?–you get the idea) is cut into slices, then the bottom curd is put on top and the whole thing is pressed. Repeat, then repeat . . . This process eventually produces that wonderfully crumbly texture that cheddar has.
For me the big finish was the blues, especially the raw cow’s-milk Caveman Blue from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR. This is one pungent cheese, no question about it!–Sheri says it smells like “a skunk died in a sweat sock.” But get through the smell and put it in your mouth!–meltingly rich and aromatic. Plus, it looks like marble–the blue veins are large and smoky, rippling through the butter-colored cheese.
It turns out that many local cheesemakers do cheese-making classes on their farms! So, for those who love cheese, stay tuned for field trips. For the rest of you, class is dismissed!
You can learn about the cheeses of the Northwest in the “bible”: Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest, by Tami Parr (see my post for 2/23; I got the book!).
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