Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cheesemongers Unite...in Portland

Back from my Portland cheese experience for five days now, and finally recovered from a wicked eyeball trauma/allergy mess (there's only so much you can do in a day with a cold compress over your ojos, if you know what I mean), I am ready to share a curd or two about my trip north!

First, let me just explain, that by "cheese experience," I mean a 3 day seminar about the Craft & Business of Retailing Artisan Cheese. Yes, thanks to Heidi Yorkshire & Food By Hand Seminars up in Portland, such a lovely thing does exist (they also offer seminars in master distillery & pork curing & butchery, just in case you're interested). I love the pic to the left as it so accurately describes much of the experience & the pure joy of cheesemongering...cut cheese, look at cheese, talk about cheese, taste cheese, and talk more about cheese. Yes please! I debated the trip for a year, but after hearing nothing but great things, I made the trek. You bet your curds it was worth it! Not only did I get to meet 7 other budding cheesers, I spent 2 full days absorbing invaluable information from Steve Jones, veteran cheesemonger of Steve's Cheese & proud owner of the Cheese Bar (shown right). Serving up an insane selection of artisan cheese from around the globe with a beautiful selection of wine & beer, and (it gets better!) delicious charcuterie, sandos, and small plates. Slice. Of. Heaven.

We chatted lots of cheese and what it means to start your own biz (scary...but fun!), visited Provista, a local distributor that spoiled us with the most delicious cheese & accoutrement social, visited the cheese counters at New Seasons, Foster & Dobbs, and Pastaworks, and tasted a ridiculous amount of bud-pleasing artisan cheese delights. Some were old favorites, and others completely new on my radar. For the sake focus & a lil' US cheesemakin' pride, here are the homeland highlights. (there was plenty of British, French, & Italian highlights as well...but they get enough time in the cheeselight, no?)

Valentine - Ancient Heritage Dairy - Scio, OR
A bloomy rind sheep's milk cheese done in a Chaource style (translation...buttery smooth & creamy with crack-like addiction capabilities, but way more elegant, of course). Due to higher fat content of sheep's milk it is fairly rich, so just a bite can turn a grey sky blue. The herby earthy notes provide an amazing contrast to the richness. Happiness in my mouth.

Tilston Point - Hook's Cheese Company - Mineral Point, WI
This crazy blue cheese has a washed rind & a freakishly unique and killer flavor. While the name was inspired by its English cousin, Stilton, the taste and texture are its own. Tasting notes are almost difficult to pin down with ranging from earthy & tangy to sweet and it likes to linger for your taste bud's pleasure. Basically, you have to try it for yourself...and maybe do so with some honey or a glass of Tawny Port. (EEK...I get all warm & fuzzy just thinking about it!)

Wasatch Mountain Gruyere - Rockhill Creamery - Richmond, UT
Step aside Switzerland, Rockhill Creamery is nip nip nipping at your heals. Like a traditional aged gruyere, this cheese is a buttery nutty delight. On a cheese plate, in a mac & cheese, fondue or french onion soup...you certainly won't be disappointed with the flavor. Can you say, crowd pleaser?

There you have it, folks! Some homework. Find it. Eat it. Love it.

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