I’m fairly new to the festival scene, so I still get overwhelmed when I go to a food or a cheese festival. The Oregon Cheese Festival, though it was not as crazy as the Fancy Food Show in January, was pretty busy. I just guessed I’d start at the beginning, which was Cheese Connoisseur magazine. The only thing is, the magazine rep wasn’t there, and their neighbor was keeping an eye on the table for her. So, we started talking, and who was it? None other than Doug Fletcher, husband of one of the SF Bay Area food/cheese queens, Janet Fletcher, and winemaker at Terlato Family Vineyards. He was there to help promote his wife’s books, including My Calabria and Eating Local. He was a very kind gentleman, I do hope we’ll meet again! I’ll have to make a trip to Napa to visit his winery . . .
To fill myself in on the dairy scene in Oregon, I stopped by the Oregon Cheese Guild’s table, where Dan Cox of the Dairy Farmers of Oregon gave me a little summary. Generally, the number of dairy farms in the state has been decreasing. Mainly, these farms that do exist are co-ops, or family-owned, with small to medium -sized herds. That’s a big change from those mega industrial feedlots you see in California! He also noted that cheese makers in Oregon have been on the rise, and that they are highly competitive. You got that right!
I got to taste from so many makers I’d heard of, and have been waiting to meet and taste, as well as some new ones I’m glad I discovered! One of my early new favorites was the Mama Terra microcreamery. I just loved the texture on their fresh chèvre, as well as the many pictures of happy, frolicking goats.
Across the way, I came across Tumalo Farms, which I have been waiting to try for a long time. The story of this farmstead cheese company is so amazing. Similar to Pat Ford of Beehive Cheese in Utal, Flavio DeCastilhos was also a techie in Silicon Valley for a while–20 years!–before switching it up to come to Oregon. He was at the festival, and showed two of his cheeses. First, there was Fenacho, a wonderful semi-hard goat’s milk with foenogreek seeds, which gave it a full, complex, maple syrup/butterscotch flavor. You could probably drizzle some butterscotch on the side when serving. Second on the plate was the Classico reservo, also from goat’s milk, and their most decorated cheese. This one was like a goat’s milk Piave almost–nutty, sweet, probably good grated . . .
Pressing on, I discovered Pholia Farm, owned by Vern and Gianaclis Caldwell. Vern explained to me that after a long career with the US Marines, he and his family were ready to move closer to their family in Oregon, and get into cheese. Their goats are an unusual breed–Nigerian Dwarf goats. If you don’t know what they look like, go to their website. There is plenty of goat photos worthy of a centerfold! At least one of his daughters was there with him for the festival. They were sampling a cheese created just for the festival, called Phestival. It was aged for 7 months, semi-soft, sweet, and delicious. Their Blank Label cheese was also sampled, which I really enjoyed! This is underground cheese at its finest, meaning, if you aren’t able to find it at a farmer’s market or directly from the maker, you’re probably not going to find it at all, since it’s not distributed.
There’s just a sampler! I’ll be back to write more soon!