Hello world. Miss Cheesemonger has been rather busy these past few weeks, since she is in the midst of setting up her own business (eek!). I am VERY excited about this prospect, but it has been taking up most of my time and energy, and the blog has been collecting a LITTLE dust. However, in a couple of weeks, I will be visiting with some special wine and cheese folks up around Napa, so I am picking things up again!
Before the Oregon Cheese festival gets too far behind us, I wanted to share with you the images I took of some of the great discoveries I made while there.
Fern’s Edge was probably Mr. Cheesemonger’s and my favorite discovery. We each bought cheese from them independently! The Mt. Zion, a 60-90 day, aged raw goat milk cheese, was his favorite of the festival. I must admit, after tasting Andante’s fabulous Tomme Dolce, I have been looking for more aged goat cheeses. This one was just about perfect. It was full-flavored without the characteristic goat-y tang, quite understated. I kind of wish we bought some more of it . . . . As for me, I decided on the Mt. Chanterelle, a pyramidal-shaped, fresh goat’s milk coated with chanterelle mushrooms and garlic. The goat’s milk cheese and mushrooms provided a perfect, delicate contrast to each other. Gosh–I should have bought more of that one, too! The dairy is owned by Ms. Shari Reyna, who explained to Mr. Cheesemonger and me that she was a retired anthropologist. Never has she worked so much in her life as with Ferns’ Edge, but she is enjoying her second career! She explained that she’d had goats nearly her entire life, so that this dairy was a natural next step in her goat-keeping progression.
Oak Leaf was one of the quirkier cheesemakers we encountered. They had an assortment of aged, and at least one soft-ripened, goat cheeses for tasting, with names like Billy Blue (which is an aged, blue goat cheese), Manzanita (which is like a goat milk dry Jack, coated with mole, comprised of chile, chocolate, cumin, and garlic), and Peacefull Mountain Tomme (cheddar style). Yum yum. Although my tastebuds were tired from a day of tasting cheeses, I was ready for this! I was super thrilled about the ultra-aged soft-ripened cheese whose name I’ve forgotten–but I do know I loved it. The owner/cheesemaker, Dave Peterson, explained that he planned on keeping his operation small and independent. He said he goes through about 80 gallons of milk a week, and has no plans to expand much more than that, if at all.
Across the way from Ferns’ Edge and Oak Leaf, I had the chance to taste one of the cheeses that everyone has been talking about–Chubut by the Argentinian cheesemaker Mariano Battro, a native of Argentina who has settled in Oregon. This cheese is derived from a recipe developed in the 19th century by Welsh settlers in Argentina–in the province of Chubut. Mariano handed off samples of this cheese with a flourish, and I was pleasantly surprised at how mild and sweet this semi-hard cow’s milk cheese was. Maybe I was also drawn to the bold monarch butterfly label on the cheese, or the fact that I think Mariano’s button-down shirt seemed perfectly pressed in the midst of this somewhat rough and tumble cheese festival.
Cider is a hot topic of discussion in the Cheesemonger household. Mr. Cheesemonger, coming from Normandy, France (a Mecca for apples), and Brittany (where cider is practically its own cult) cannot stand the idea of drinking anything other than alcoholic cider. I am a little more lenient about my cider specs, but I do like a good cidre brut as well. He has been complaining for years about how impossible it is to find a decent cider in the United States. Well, thank goodness there was one “decent” cider producer at the festival, Wandering Aengus Ciderworks. I think Mr. Cheesemonger had tastes of everything on that table. Since it was, by now, near the end of the festival, many of their ciders had run out, so I only had the chance to taste the “Bloom” cider, which was magnificent, very light and refreshing.
Nestled next to La Mariposa was the company Ochoa’s Queseria, which makes Mexican cheese. I had a taste of their queso fresco, and it was fantastic, not too dense. It seemed light and fluffy, almost like dry snow, and perfectly salted. Yup, if you see their cheeses, know that you will not be disappointed.
After all of this cheese tasting, one usually does need to cleanse the palate, so a saunter over to Applegate Valley Artisan Breads did the trick quite nicely. If there’s one thing I love more than cheese, it’s bread, and they’ve got plenty of varieties to mix things up a bit.
Admittedly, this is veering a little bit off the cheese path. There were a good number of confectioners at this cheese festival! I was enamored with all of the color at Green’s Gourmet Goodies’ booth. By this time, it was late in the day, and I was pretty much done with tasting, but I did enjoy meeting owner Cheryl Green, who began this company after becoming pregnant with her son, in order to care for him herself. As a former medical assistant, Cheryl seems quite sensitive to special diets, and thus offers sugar-free products as well. Yum. This is right up there with Lillie Belle Farms spicy chocolate, which was, surprisingly, spicy!, and Marshmallow Heaven’s flavored, handmade marshmallows.
The festival closed with a massive tasting of a ton of Rogue Creamery’s cheeses. I love them all, but I stand by the umami, almost primitive, savor of the Caveman Blue. Mr. Cheesemonger, on the other hand, loved the slightly sweeter, slightly crumblier Crater Lake Blue. They are both excellent.
I forgot to take a picture of my last meeting at the festival because I was so flustered! At the beginning, I met Mr. Doug Fletcher, winemaker at Terlato Family Vineyards and husband of the San Francisco area cheese expert, Janet Fletcher. We had a very delightful conversation, and he pointed out some other cheese makers I should meet at the festival. We parted ways as I contemplated my festival game plan. As I was wandering around the festival later that afternoon, I heard him say to someone, “This is someone you need to meet! She writes a cheese blog!” I turned, looked, and it was cheese queen Laura Werlin herself. Yeah. The lady whose books I read to prepare for my work as a cheesemonger. And Doug Fletcher was introducing me to her. Although I have never met David Bowie, if I did meet him, I would probably experience very similar feelings of awe and excitement and shyness as when I met Laura. I still feel a little silly that I forgot to give her my business card. I was, however, able to blurt out that I was beginning a solo law practice, hopefully to serve the cheese community in part, that I had read her books to prepare for my cheese work, and that I wanted to thank her for her contribution to American artisanal cheese. Next time, I will try not to act like a deer in the headlights, but it was wonderful meeting both Laura and Doug!
There you have it, the Oregon Cheese Festival in a nutshell. I was really glad for the opportunity to visit this beautiful state, and this extraordinary creamery.