The imagery of the Pacific Northwest is always beautiful to me–both of its landscape and its food! M. Cheesemonger and I spent a quick weekend in Seattle before heading off to nearby Whidbey Island for a few days off the grid. Lucky for us, it was sunny and warm the entire week. Our first stop was Pike’s Place Market, where I could satisfy my epicurean side and my obsession with peonies. Food and flowers were everywhere!
We arrived in Seattle bright and early on a Saturday, and headed straight for Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Peeking inside the plate-glass windows, I could see curds being broken up in the creamery’s enormous vat (in the middle of the city!) and workers deftly hooping the cut curds into cheese forms. The cheese shop side was already full at 10:30am. Monger Dominic guided me through the case. There were some Cowgirl Creamery cheeses there, but also a couple local ones that I haven’t seen before. I had to get a Beecher’s cheese, of course. Dominic pointed out Flagsheep, like their Flagship cheese, but made with 33% ewe’s milk. We settled on two others, both from Cascadia Creamery in Trout Lake, Washington—Cloud Cap, modeled after the English Caerphilly, and Glacier Blue.
The Flagsheep was a lovely cheese all around, from its rosy yellow paste, to the random eyes dispersed through its crumbly paste. The wheel was wrapped in cheesecloth, so I could see the light weave of fabric, as well as gorgeous splotches of white, muted taupes, and browns throughout the rind. There was a great deepening of color between the paste and the rind, almost to mauve. It smelled mild—a little milky and nutty—like the combination of Gruyère (thanks to the cultures) and cheddar (thanks to the recipe) that it is. There was a hint of woolliness from the ewe’s milk. And did I just imagine the smell of blackberries, or is that a reflection of the area’s abundance of them? Flavor-wise, Flagsheep DID possess a significant fruity/berry element, as well as a bit of barnyard sheep. There was also a light touch of toasted hazelnuts, which I would have expected from a cheese inspired in part from Gruyère, but not as much as I had expected. This one ended up being M. Cheesemonger’s favorites. If I find this again in my neck of the woods, it will make another appearance on the cheese board!
The two Cascadia Creamery cheeses were superb. I don’t think I can find these little guys around SF, so this was the moment! Another blog has actually done a nice write-up following a visit, so you can read it here!
Cloud Cap, the Caerphilly-inspired cheese, came first—it was the milder of the two, with a semi-soft, buttery yellow paste. There were some eyes throughout, but on the whole, the paste looks like butter with some holes. The rind is natural, with some mottled fabric imprints. Taking a big whiff of the rind was like descending into a cellar. It smelled of earth, or a cool forest floor. The paste smelled more like butter and cream. Upon tasting it, I found the flavor resembled that of slightly sour butter, while the rind added a deeper mushroomy quality (in the best possible sense!). The flavor lingered a long time on the tongue, with a rather sandy mouthfeel and slight bite. M. Cheesemonger and I tried cooking with it, and discovered it makes for a great addition to food. In our case, we melted it into some asparagus risotto with much success. I’d definitely use this one again in the kitchen, in a grilled cheese, pasta, or in a gratin.
The second Cascadia Creamery, Glacier Blue, was a little like the Quasimodo of cheeses. It was lumpy and bumpy all over its paper-thin, burnt orange rind, but I knew it had a good heart. The penicillium rocqueforti mold display throughout Glacier Blue was spectacular—several dusty green pockets of powdery molds shouted for attention. Despite the ostentatious show of blue in the paste, Glacier Blue smelled pretty mild. There was a slight bit of pungency, but mainly, I sensed a bit of bread and earth. Tasting it (and this was echoed by several subsequent French tasters) was reminiscent of the Fourme d’Ambert, with an assertive, lingering sense of umami and earth. I’d go for hearty bread on this one, like a nut bread, or one with lots of seeds, possibly dried fruit. A nice dark honey, like buckwheat or blackberry, might work well.
Thank you to Beecher’s Cheese, especially Dominic, for introducing me to some of the beautiful cheeses of the region!
If you find yourself in Seattle, Pike Place Market is the place to be, especially Beecher’s!
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese: 1600 Pike Pl, Seattle, WA 98101
Pike Place Market: 85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101