When most people think of Washington and Oregon, they think of rain. The West Coast's moderate winter temperatures combined with about 60 inches of precipitation a year make for perfect grass-growing conditions, and since lush, green grasses equal happy grazing animals... I'm sure you can guess where I'm going with this.
The Pacific Northwest is home to many superlative creameries, and while I was visiting Portland a few weeks ago, I got to sample some few truly impressive cheeses thanks to Steve Jones and his boy Collin at Cheese Bar. (If you're in town, I highly recommend stopping in.) If you weren't aware that Washington and Oregon are states to be reckoned with on the dairy front, let me shake you from your slumber with these sublime cheeses.
River's Edge Chevré Sunset Bay
This is one of the most gorgeous cheeses I've ever seen. With its luminous vein of smoked paprika running through the middle, Sunset Bay looks like a 3D sunset painted with culinary pigments. It's smoky, of course, but this cheese is so much more than just a wash of watercolors and pungent pimenton. Rich, fatty, with a not-too-goaty personality, the inner paste is firm and grassy, with brow-raising notes of prosciutto. Sunset Bay's cream line is an exercise in salty adoration, with a solid helping of yeasty, buttery smoothness that glides across your tongue like a warm pat of butter on a freshly baked baguette. Magnificent.
Cascadia Creamery Glacier Blue
Meaty! Fatty! Salty! Mild! Glacier Blue is all of these things and more. Blue, but not in-yo-face blue, this is a good beginner cheese for those that don't look favorably upon Penicillium. Glacier Blue is a brine-lovers dream, wrapping your palate in a blanket of salt so delectable you may have to quell the urge to face-plant into your wedge, mouth open, hoping to sweep this luscious cheese over as many of your tastebuds as humanly possible. A touch sweet with a little grassiness to every bite, Glacier Blue is a Pacific Northwest winner.
Central Coast Creamery Big Rock Blue
This is a bigger, more assertive blue than Glacier Blue above, but Big Rock isn't going to knock you out of your seat. No, its manners are too refined for such a display. Here you'll find a parade of flavors, starting with piquant and buttery, then spicy and sweet, and finally salty with a hint of bitter. This cheese finishes meaty, without the lingering spice of blue-bite, making you wonder if you really experienced the beginning of the show. Was it all a dream? There's only one way to find out: another bite.
Ancient Heritage Dairy Hannah
Firm and compelling, Hannah is mild at first, but adds a little more to the conversation after a few seconds pause. Salty and bready, like salted butter across a slice of sourdough, Hannah's nuttiness makes it a strong contender on any cheese plate. I picked up a hint of hazelnuts, while my friend instead sensed pine nuts. Regardless of what family of nuttiness you're loyal to, you'll love this cheese's initial nibble (and subsequently more complex little kisses).
Do you have a favorite Washington or Oregon cheese? Or had you ever thought of these states as contenders in the cheese world?
More Serious Cheese!
- 3 Sheep's Milk Cheeses You Must Try
- How to Shop for Cheese: Understanding the Differences Between Mass-Produced and Specialty Cheeses
- 5 West Coast Cheeses to Know
- Funkadelic Cheeses: The Source of the Smell
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.