Seattle: Beecher's Cheese at Pike Place Market
"Beecher's is as much a museum as it is a cheese shop and small cafe, which claims to sell the World's Best Mac and Cheese."
I can't think of a window display more entrancing than the one at Beecher's in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Two gigantic metallic bathtubs full of curds and whey in the middle surrounded by white-lab-coated, hair-netted, official-looking people dragging rakes through the tubs on important cheesemaking duty.
Beecher's is as much a museum as it is a cheese shop and small cafe, which claims to sell The World's Best Mac and Cheese, according to the chalkboard menu ($4.75 for eight ounces, or $8.25 for 16 ounces). The world's best? Quite a cocky claim. Every penne tube gets coated in a luscious cheesy paste—a mix of their famous Flagship, Just Jack, and spices. Thanks to the hollow shape, ooze gets trapped inside and gushes out when you chew. It's got such a cult following, they even sell $45 kits of it.
It's definitely a luxury mac and cheese, as creamy as they come with a depth of cheese flavor. The only thing missing? A crunchy breadcrumb layer on top, an essential part of my "world's best" mac and cheese. If you're just looking for ridiculously creamy, this is it.
Triangles of the Flagship, a semi-hard unpasteurized cow's milk, are for sale nearby. It's the same stuff they're making behind the glass windows. After being aged, the Flagship develops a nutty, earthy taste—nothing too crazy pungent, but a very likable flavor with a subtle tang.
The glass cases also house all kinds of rounds, hunks, and wedges, piled high from quaint-sounding farms in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Plenty of knowledgeable cheesemongers (who are super friendly, no cheese snobbery here) are waiting behind the counter, ready to educate you on some lesser-known styles and feed you samples of fresh curd nubbins.
Whether you're cheese shopping or not, feel free to sit on the huge metallic milk barrels—front row seats to the cheesification action. After some back-and-forth raking, the Beecher's crew drains the tubs of the cloudy-white whey liquid, then presses the remaining curds and cut them into giant white loaves. Once stacked and squeezed (to get every last whey drip out) it's time to add salt to flavor and ripen the cheese. All this gets explained on huge signs hanging inside.
Fact: You will leave Beecher's a much bigger cheese nerd than when you entered.
1600 Pike Place, Seattle WA 98101 (map); 206-956-1964