Notes from the 2016 Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival

There was cheese everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean throughout the entire ground floor of the Seattle Design Center. Tables and tables of cheese samples, cheesemakers, cheese purveyors, and cheese pairings. It was a sight to behold.

I arrived on the scene of the Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival with two of my dear colleagues, Alicia and Janna. We brought along Janna’s husband, an architect who seemed by the end of the day like he should also be a cheesemonger. Like total noobs, we arrived on time and waited in line with the hordes of other cheese enthusiasts, and tried to tackle the floor by starting at the first booth and working our way around the room.

This led to almost immediate failure, as everyone else had the same idea. (Noobs!) Long story short, that allowed us to try cheeses from about four of the 36 booths before we had to run upstairs to the festival seminar.

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The seminar, put on by Julia Powers of Peterson Cheese Company, compared cheesemaking in Washington State and the powerhouse cheese countries of Europe. Julia had us taste a variety of Washington cheeses alongside their European counterparts.

On our beautifully arranged plates, we found a duo of butters (Isigny St. Mere and Cherry Valley), camemberts (Mt. Townsend’s Cirrus and Herve Mons’ Le Pommier), fontinas (Ferndale’s asiago pressa and a Val d’Aosta DOP), hops-infused beer cheeses (Tieton’s Calypso and Hop on Top), and blues (Fourme d’Ambert and Cascadia Creamery’s Glacier Blue). My favorite thing, by far, was the butter. Yeah, that’s right. We sat there and ate butter and didn’t feel bad about it.

I also really enjoyed pairing the blues (and the butter) with the shards of dark chocolate on the plate. Having done a cheese and chocolate pairing at work during which I detested all of the pairings, I was pleasantly surprised that this plain, dark chocolate would go so well with the blues—or anything else, for that matter.

 

After the seminar, we tried to get through all of the remaining booths before the presenters started closing down shop. I think we failed to get to three or four of them. Devastatingly, all of the ice cream samples were already gone.

While there’s a lot of fantastic cheese being made in Washington state, there were a few creameries at the festival that really stole the show.

Cherry Valley Dairy of Duvall, Washington

The same creamery that provided the delicious butter to the seminar has a bunch of phenomenal butters and fresh cheeses. One of the first booths we checked out, Cherry Valley presented butters (Dairy Reserve, Meadow Bloom, Gray Salt Butter, Unsalted Butter, Coffee Butter, and Herbed Rose Butter), Cultured Buttermilk, Whey Ricotta, and Fromage Blanc with Herbs. My favorites were the coffee butter and the gray salt butter, but the fromage blanc was also really nice.

Glendale Shepherd of Clinton, Washington

Glendale Shepherd’s Tallulah was one of my favorite cheeses at the festival. A washed-rind soft-ripened sheep cheese, it was lush, creamy, a little bit nutty, and altogether divine. There was also their Island Brebis, an aged tomme, and their Brebis Frais, a fresh cheese flavored with garlic and dill. Tallulah was the standout. The icing on the cake for me, though, was when I walked up to the booth and nodded at one of the cheesemakers. “Try it,” he said. “Ewe might like it.” We had a chuckle, and then I took a bite and I loved it.

Monteillet Fromagerie of Dayton, Washington

One of the creameries I was excited to try going into the festival, Monteillet Fromagerie really does make very special cheeses. I tried Larzac, a bloomy rind with an ash line; Le Roi Noir, a heart-shaped bloomy dusted with ash and sea salt; La Fleur du Midi, a bloomy buche covered in smoked paprika, sea salt, edible flowers, and herbs; and Cardabelle, a brie. All of the cheeses are made with a mixture of goat and sheep milk. All were beautiful, tender morsels that left us quiet with appreciation as we tasted them.

The Farmstead of Olympia, Washington

Although they weren’t listed in the official festival brochure, The Farmstead was really worth noticing. I tried their fresh chevre, feta, and halloumi. I’m a sucker for halloumi, and I found theirs to be really nice. Their feta was also just salty enough and had a nice texture.

 

Glendale Shepherd won the first place People’s Choice Award for Tallulah, and they deserved it! Equally deserving was Twin Sisters Creamery, winning second place for Whatcom Blue—a cheese we already knew and loved before the festival. Tieton Farms and Creamery won third place for Rheba, a sheep and goat blend Reblochon-style cheese.

It was a fun experience attending the festival for the first time, and my colleagues and I left feeling more excited about Washington state’s cheeses. There were plenty of creameries that didn’t make it to the festival, which means there is much to discover. Future cheese adventures are in order!

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