FOOD

Cheese Wiz Knows Her Biz

Book Review by Christine Hyatt

This month, we take a brief respite from our journey through the world’s finest cheesemaking regions to honor the incredible diversity of cheeses being created in our own backyard and a new book chronicling this impressive phenomenon.

“Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest” (April 2009, The Countryman Press) by Portland-based author and blogger Tami Parr, provides a fascinating snapshot of every cheesemaker from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia crafting cheese as of summer 2008.

Presented regionally with each state or province, the book provides a peek behind the scenes of the many cheesemakers crafting many types and styles of cheese.

Parr is the creative force behind the very successful Pacific Northwest Cheese Project blog (http://pnwcheese.typepad.com), which she began in 2004, a time when the surge in regional cheese production was in its nascent stage.

“It’s coming up on five years since I began the blog,” Parr said. “I started noticing all these interesting cheeses out there. I wanted to learn more, but I wasn’t finding anything on them. I was also bored with my job and wanted a creative outlet and thought blogging would be amusing, so I jumped in; the right place at the right time.”

Simultaneously with the launch of her blog, new creameries started springing up. Since 2005, over 30 new creameries have come online in the region, tripling the regional tally of fewer than 25 in 2000.

“Writing a book became the logical extension of the website. Not everyone is going to learn about cheese on the web,” Parr said. “The book helps the information reach a wider audience than the web alone.”

In writing the book, Parr visited every single farm and logged almost 12,000 miles during her travels.

“With the blog, I’d write about people as I learned about them or as they contacted me,” she said. “At that time, I wouldn’t have traveled to each maker; I would have said it’s too far or I don’t have time. Being able to do it was a lot of work, but it was a total blast.”

She got to visit reclusive industry pioneer Sally Jackson, who has been making cheese on her farm in far northeastern Washington since 1979. Parr lists this visit among her favorite memories of writing the book: “Seeing those piles and piles of cheeses on the shelf and hearing her talk about what it was like getting started, driving to Seattle every week to sell cheeses, was incredible.”

Parr sees the connection between early cheesemakers, like Jackson, and today’s new artisans.

“It’s dreamy and idealistic to say I want to make this product and put it out there and see what happens, but that’s the kind of spirit that is common to many of the cheesemakers, then and now,” Parr noted.

Another common theme is the hard work, dedication and sacrifice made by each of the cheesemakers profiled, something rarely considered by people savoring the cheese. Parr is happy to give consumers a glimpse into that world through her writing.

“Consumers don’t have a chance to visit the farm and see the human drama, animal drama, the daily joys and tragedies of the natural cycle of things,” Parr commented. “I was lucky to be able to chronicle the incredible hurdles these people go through just to make cheese: financial hurdles, the physical labor, dealing with the animals and land and seeing the sacrifices they make; it’s incredible.”

As for the future, she’s decidedly optimistic about the growth and maturity of the Northwest cheesemaking industry.

“Since writing the book, we have three new cheesemakers in Oregon and three in Washington,” Parr said. “I thought for sure we’d see a leveling off but it hasn’t happened. In Oregon alone, we could grow by five more this year.

“With the growth, there’ll be shakeouts and retirements, but with more numbers and competition comes more styles of cheese, better quality, and even more interesting types of cheeses. I look forward to enjoying that diversity.”

“Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest” is the ideal companion to explore the growing artistry around us. In addition to the profiles, it includes handy maps of cheesemakers throughout the region, a comprehensive list of retailers, tips for enjoying and storing cheese and a selection of recipes. Be sure to pick up a copy for yourself or your favorite cheese geek, and celebrate our rich and expanding cheese scene.

NW Nibbles

Courtesy of Steve Jones, cheesemonger at Steve’s Cheese in Portland

Cheese Course #1

Pholia Farm Hillis Peak
Ancient Heritage Valentine
Black Sheep Creamery Mopsy’s Best
Estrella Family Creamery Guapier
Rogue Creamery Rogue River Blue
Pair with toasted Oregon walnuts and sour cherries

Cheese Course #2

Rivers Edge Chèvre Sunset Bay
Rollingstone Chèvre Blue Agé
Fraga Farm Rio Santiam
Tumalo Farms Pondhopper
Sally Jackson Leaf-Wrapped Goat Cheese
Pair with toasted Oregon hazelnuts and honey

Christine Hyatt is a Cheese Educator and food writer. She currently serves as the Vice President of the American Cheese Society and welcomes cheesy questions at christine@cheese-chick.com .

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