Unless you're living under a rock where no cheese exists, you're probably aware that the West Coast is home to many of the artisan cheese world's most inspired varieties of fermented dairy. But of all the small-time cheese producers churning out new kinds of cheese, which are the the most reliable favorites?
Here are five West Coast cheeses you simply MUST try. I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Point Reyes Toma
An award winner may times over, Toma is a cheese that sits high on many cheese connoisseurs' top ten lists. Toma is produced along the central California coast, by a small family operation called The Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. This beauty of an Italian-style cow's milk cheese is semi-hard, with a gorgeously creamy, buttery personality. Toma is a wonderful addition to your cheese plate, but it's just as readily shredded into a hot cheese casserole at home. (Gratin dauphinois, anyone?)
Nicasio Valley Foggy Morning
There are not many cheeses I can say that I'd love to fall asleep in a bed of, but Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's Foggy Morning is such a soft, delicate, young cheese that you might have a hard time not dreaming of a nap in this fresh little pillow yourself. In its tart fluff you'll taste layers of grass and wildflowers, maybe a little créme frâiche (of which there is none added, by the way). Foggy Morning is life altering on its own, though I also recommend crumbling it into a fresh green salad with a little sweet vinaigrette.
Rogue River Blue
Rogue River Blue is hands down one of my favorite blue cheeses. Produced in central Oregon by Rogue Creamery, you'll find an assertive cow's milk personality here, in addition to its unique pear brandy-soaked grape leaf exterior. Its contrasting textures of creamy and crunchy play across your tongue, releasing the most incredible series of flavors I've experienced in a blue cheese: spicy, vegetal, nutty, and, well...wild. If you're a fan of the blue and want to up the ante, I highly recommend Rogue River Blue.
Mt. Townsend Cirrus
A soft cow's milk cheese from Mount Townsend Creamery in Washington State, Cirrus is a stellar West Coast version of French Camembert. While this buttery cheese is just begging to be baked and paired with dried fruit, it's not your mom's old-fashioned dipping cheese. You'll find this variety creamier than the French version, with a few licks of Pacific-Northwest sea breeze as an added bonus.
Tumalo Farms Classico
Tumalo Farms' Classico is a semi-hard goat's milk cheese that pulled a 3rd-place prize in the prestigious U.S Cheese Championship Contest in 2009, despite the fact that the cheesemaker was a relative newcomer to the cheese world. This central Oregon beauty is goaty without being overly so, with a lingering sweetness that leaves your palate begging for another bite. Perfect on a cheese plate, or in Tumalo Farms' recipe for roasted chicken penne with arugula pesto.
About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.