When it comes to Oregonian cheese, it doesn't get more iconic than Tillamook. The cheddar loaf is what defines cheese for many a west coaster who grow up eating it.
But if you visit Steve's Cheese Bar in Portland, you'll meet many new cheeses, none of them Tillamook. Inside his glass case Steve offers over 200 cheeses from all over the globe with a special focus on the smaller-scale farmstead cheeses from the Willamette Valley and around Oregon.
If you've spent any time in Oregon before, you know how mandatory an umbrella is, and it's this regular rainfall that makes the Oregonian grass grow so lush and green year-round. The goats, cows, and sheep grazing on it produce creamy, nutty, earthy milk that you can really taste it in the cheese.
Steve is all about supporting small local cheesemakers, but he admits, some of them are better than others. "You see cheesemakers who put a blindfold on and run off a cliff. Others study the science and art of cheesemaking."
Brian Humiston, for example, studied food science and fermentation at Oregon State University before starting Full Circle Creamery in Crabree, Oregon, 2010. Applying his degree in curd-nerdery, he now makes cheddar and mozzarella from organic milk. Steve introduced us to Full Circle Creamery's cheddar as well as the unique "Chubut" cheese from a man named Mariano Battro who comes from a lineage of Argentine cheesemakers. His family's dairy back in Patagonia was largely influenced by Welsh settlers who migrated to Argentina in the 1800s and started making Chubut. He now makes this historic cheese using cow's milk from Lochmead Dairy in Junction City, Oregon.
Hearing Steve talk about the cheesemakers and where they came from gives you a sense of where Oregon cheese is headed. Many Old World cheese traditions meeting the Oregon terroir. Like Rogue Creamery's Smokey Blue: a feisty blue cheese that's roasted over hazelnuts shells. (Hazelnuts are the state nut of Oregon, and Oregonians really love them.)
In addition to sampling through the cheese case, you can pop into Steve's Bar for his impressive selection of local beers and wines (really, this guy must love beer as much as his cheese), as well as cheese plates, sandwiches, salads, and warm dishes from the oven to enjoy at the seats inside.
Steve's Cheese Bar
6031 SE Belmont, Portland OR. 97215