More cheese, please!

You may recall my post (almost a year ago now!) about Cheese 101, the excellent introduction to world-class cheeses by cheesemonger Sheri LaVigne. Browsing in Sheri’s store The Calf & Kid after class, I picked up Tami Parr’s great book on the Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest and proceeded to munch my way through a big chunk of it. So how could I resist when Sheri offered a second cheese class hosted by Tami herself?

We convened once again at the common table in Sitka & Spruce (Matt Dillon’s very uncommon restaurant in the Melrose Market). Sheri introduced us to Tami and then we settled in to learn about a baker’s dozen of local cheeses. (It had to have been a challenge to select them; since 2000, when the Northwest had just six cheesemakers, the number in Oregon and Washington has grown to 72–and counting!)

We tasted our way around a first plate of eleven cheeses, starting with a fresh chevre from Yarmouth Farms (at high noon in this picture). I’ve mentioned Louise Yarmouth’s French Creek cheese before, but I gather that she now produces only this chevre. [This just in!–Sheri tells me I got it wrong. In fact, Louise also produces bloomy rind cheeses and two or three aged hard cheeses. Better and better!] To make the chevre, she blends the milk from the four breeds that make up her 25-goat herd. It’s an airy fluffy chevre that I liked so well I went back for a little tub of it; I served it on crackers with just a simple herb garnish.

The next two cheeses (at 1:00 and 2:00 on the plate) are Dinah’s Cheese from Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island and Seastack Cheese from the Mt. Townsend Creamery over in Port Townsend. (Dinah is one of Kurt Timmermeier’s six Jersey cows; I told you earlier about his adventures becoming a farmer. ) Both of these soft-ripened cheeses, made from pasteurized cow’s milk, are buttery, earthy, and  aromatic. Not from Seattle?–You can get them in many regional grocery stores that have fine-cheese counters.

The next cheese, an “ashed camembert” from Tieton Creamery in Yakima, was a real find. Made from pasteruized goat and sheep’s milk (Tami tells us that owners Laurie and Ruth mix the milk of their 16 goats and nine sheep), this soft-rind cheese was creamy and rich. I went back to get more of it too, but ended up with a different camembert–also made from goat and sheep milk, but not ashed. This very soft, pungent camembert was lovely but I’m holding out for the one I first tasted; stay tuned!

Dutchman’s Flat, the cheese next on the plate, is a raw goat’s milk cheese made by Juniper Grove Farm in Redmond (no, not that Redmond–this one is in Oregon). I found it a little chalky; Tami says it is very good with fig compote and similar cooked fruit.

On to the firm cheeses. At 6:00 is Mopsey’s Best, a manchego-style cheese made from raw sheep’s milk that had a nice rich, deep flavor. (Maybe because sheep’s milk is 8% fat or more, compared to a meager 4% for cows and goats?) Went out and got more!–It’s great for simple munching.

The next two cheeses, Dulcinea from Larks Meadow in Rexburg, Idaho and Brindisi from Willamette Valley Cheese in Salem, Oregon, were both really nice, but I especially loved the last of this batch, the Classico Reserve made by Tumalo Farms in Bend, Oregon. (The owner, I gather, made his fortune from WebMD and then retired to tend his 300 goats.) Like a Gouda, it is brined, and has a vaguely sweet taste and a firm but creamy texture with a tiny bit of crunch. I couldn’t resist more of this one, either–I served it with just a curl of salami on top.

The final two cheeses on this plate were the blues. (My notes tell me that, to get the characteristic blue marbling of this cheese, the makers pierce the cheese wheel as it ages to enable the mold to grow inside.) The first one, Billy Blue, from Oak Leaf Creamery in Grants Pass, Oregon, is unusual in that it is made from goat’s milk. The second one, Caveman Blue from the Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, was well-known to me (another well-established producer whose products appear in better-cheese cases in area grocery stores), and still remains a favorite–sweet and pungent at the same time. Get some, if you like blue!

Eleven cheeses!–But we weren’t done. The last two tastes were really desserts made from cheese. The first was Chocolate Goat Chevre Truffle from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, Oregon–made with just those ingredients. So good I wanted to throw myself on the floor with it. (But when I went back to get more–say a gallon or so–I learned that the makers have suspended production for a couple of months while they move to a new farm. Trying to be patient here . . .) The second taste was Frangelico from River’s Edge Chevre in Logsden, Oregon–fresh chevre, Frangelico liqueur, roasted hazelnuts, and brown sugar. Also delicious! (but for a chocoholic like me, doomed by coming second).

Get all these cheeses and more from Sheri at The Calf and Kid!–She has an amazing selection, sourced not just locally but internationally, and she and her other staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Not sure?–Ask for a taste; they are happy to help.  And be sure to visit Tami’s website, the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, for cheese recipes, news, profiles, and much, much more!

What I’m reading: Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest

Tami Parr, Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest

Organized by state and region, this handy compendium showcases twenty cheesemakers from across the Pacific Northwest–the styles of cheese they produce, their visiting hours and address, even what their label looks like. The brief writeup (usually only two pages) gives you a snapshot of the history of each business and introduces you to the cheesemakers themselves–the artisans and their families whose labor and skill create these beautiful products. The book ends with several very useful appendices about cheese.

(The Countryman Press, 2009)

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