Friends, ovines, cheese lovers, lend me your ears. I’m here to tell you that there’s damned good cheese being made here in Washington State by some 40 artisan cheesemakers, and that endorsement’s coming from a person who has wholeheartedly sworn allegiance to French cheese. My perspective changed on the day before Easter, when we went to the first Washington Artisan Cheese Festival, a benefit for the Cascade Harvest Coalition.
Entering a cavernous room we discovered that the walls were lined with cheesemakers handing out endless samples of their wares. Every cheese was numbered, and later one could (and this one certainly did) buy their favorite cheeses to take home, by the numbers. There were definitely too many cheeses to remember without a numbering system, probably about 100 different cheeses to sample, with Washington wine, beer, and cider available to help clear the palate between tastes.
Some folks had their cheese samples ready to go, and the visitors just filed past and grabbed tidbits.
Others, like these two ladies from Mountain Lodge Farm practically hand fed you. They were also responsible for transforming Shel into a fiend for fresh chèvre spread on a thin gingersnap. He even went back for seconds, which is very unlike him, so I suggest you give it a try as soon as possible.
You could chat with the cheesemakers, to the extent that your conscience allowed chatting when there was a whole line of impatient tasters behind you, and it was interesting to hear their explanations of how a very small cheesemaking operation does its thing.
There were also a few cheese auxiliary foods like bread, crackers, and jam. The limpa got especially high marks from my group.
I really liked a lot of cheese, but I’d have to say that Tieton Farm impressed me the most. Click the link to take a look at their website, they have a praiseworthy and diverse farming and production process, as well as producing exciting cheeses.Their Sonnet could pass for French, as could their Cendres. Their cider-washed-rind Venus is just delicious. I know I’ll be happily eating and serving their cheeses from now on.
Willapa Hills Big Boy Blue is one of the creamiest and most appealing cow milk blues that I’ve had in a long time
and Pluvius, their aged cow cheese is especially pretty to look at.
Samish Bay Cheese had a lovely lineup, and I wanted to take home some of everything. I did get some of their queso fresco-style Jalapeno cheese, which is stuffed full of juicy bits of fresh pepper and is just crying out for a Mexican salad lunch. I might also have to emulate their Black Mambazo by lightly coating some mild cheese with a mixture of cocoa and ground chipotle. Yum!
There were several spicy offerings but I was especially taken with River Valley Cheese for their awesome pepper jack. Their ale-washed-rind Naughty Nellie sneaked into my sack as well. They give cheesemaking classes in Seattle too – yowza, I am so going to do that.
So all in all, Washington sheep, goats, cows, and their people, good job!