I believe I've gone on record as saying that Vermont is the greatest cheese state in the nation. Them's fighting words, I know. And I probably shouldn't set foot in Wisconsin or California any time soon. But after tasting some of Oregon's offerings on a recent road trip with my wife, I may have to change my tune just a bit.
Our two-creamery whirlwind began with a hunk of the Oregonzola from Rogue Creamery, an 80 year-old cheese maker from southern Oregon. Having tasted their cheese at restaurants and heard about them from trusted sources, it was no surprise that the stuff was excellent. Nutty and funky with a creamy, buttery paste that spreads and crumbles just the way you want it to. You can order any of their cheese online.
The surprise for us came at Briar Rose Creamery, a small (as in small) operation in Dundee. The creamery is run by Sarah Marcus, a former radio broadcaster and producer who got her start in cheesemaking at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco (a fine cheesemaker in its own right) and opened up her own shop in 2010. She's since won a 1st place prize in the 2012 American Dairy Goat Cheese Competition for her Freya's Wheel (pictured at left, up top), a semi-soft bloomy rind goat cheese with a tangy, creamy edge and a chalky, tart center that crumbles almost like feta.
Her Iris is firm and sliceable, with a washed rind and a nice earthy flavor. Its goat milk tang translates to an almost tropical fruit-like flavor, reminiscent of passionfruit and melon like a good chardonnay. The only thing it was missing was a drizzle of honey or perhaps some dried fruit. We ended up eating it a bit too fast.
There was no feta or the Taleggio-style Madrona offered the day we visited, but we did get to taste all five flavors of her fresh chèvre, including a version seasoned with rosemary and peppercorns, and another with smoky chipotle. We opted to take a half pint of the classic with us, which, once it warmed up to road-trip car temperature, became intensely creamy. We ate it straight out of the container with a spoon.
Like I said, her distribution is small, but if you find yourself in Oregon, you can seek it out at these locations—it's certainly worth the effort.