Sarah Marcus, Briar Rose Creamery owner and cheesemaker. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt
Good Cheese Company partners with Dobbes Family Estate to create pre-packaged snack boxes, which often include Briar Rose cheese. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt

Pivotal Times

Briar Rose adapts to challenging market

By Christine Hyatt

Emerging this spring as a viable small business in the specialty cheese industry is no small feat. Sarah Marcus, owner and cheesemaker of Briar Rose Creamery, recently celebrated 10 award-winning years in business, knows this all too well.

As most restaurants and fine food purveyors discovered, this past year proved the most challenging. Marcus says her ability to adapt and embrace change helped her survive.

“I won’t say we did great, but we did okay, a qualified okay,” Marcus said. “We’re still here. Our employees are still here. Counting farmers markets, there’s a total of six of us. We’re small but mighty.”

Marcus, who established her picturesque creamery high in the Dundee Hills, envisioned a destination for wine-loving travelers touring and tasting in the area. Over the last year, her proximity to wineries and connection to the local community helped her remain on course.

In the early days of March and April, while her restaurant business dried up overnight, she sold direct to wineries, which helped make up some of the difference.

“As wineries began to open, they had to re-think their food options,” Marcus explained. “With no more cut-to-order cheese plates, they needed cheeses that were pre-packaged and ready to go. Understanding this was happening, I was able to pivot — I love that word, pivot — and offer our retail cuts, sold at farmers markets, to wineries.”

Briar Rose Butterbaby personal-sized cheeses remain popular at tasting rooms around the Willamette Valley. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt

As reservations became the sole option for tasting rooms, complimentary add-ons such as cheese plates gained popularity. Featuring local producers to showcase the old adage “what grows together goes together,” has proven an inspired strategy.

During the dark winter months, wineries pivoted themselves, featuring online pairings with selected partners. It was just this sort of collaboration that led Briar Rose to be featured in an online class with nearby Knudsen Vineyards and become an ongoing presence in the tasting room.

“I provided them some cheese samples, and they tried them with their wines so they were able to find what really works,” Marcus recalled. “It all comes together when you can taste the two, side by side, in those pairings.” Guests who make reservations can add the cheese plate and try the pairings first hand at the cozy tasting room with magnificent views of the Dundee Hills.

For a long time, Marcus has cultivated a relationship with Sokol Blosser.  “They have been long-term supporters of the creamery, featuring our cheeses in the tasting room, and I really appreciate that,” she said. “They are neighbors and have really been there for us, even helping with cold-storage when power was out at the creamery during the fires last summer and ice storm this winter.” 

Just down the road, two long country blocks away, Domaine Roy et Fils has created the perfect pairing with cheeses Butterbaby and Mini Maia. Even better, Marcus can deliver as needed, supplying a truly fresh refreshment for winery guests.

These small-format gems are perfect for two to three people to share. Though mini cheeses pack a big flavor punch, each requires much care and tending during aging, and extra labor to carefully wrap and label each four-ounce wheel.

“We make batches of 144 wheels of Maia and 144 wheels of Mini Maia,” Marcus explained.  “Each gets washed by hand several times; [we] wrap each one, weigh them and label them. It’s just too expensive to sell to a larger market.  There is no machine to do this. Or if there is, I can’t afford it.”

These cheeses are made specifically for the local winery scene, weekly farmers markets in Beaverton and McMinnville, and for sale at Briar Rose’s onsite cheese window, open noon to 5 Friday and Saturday, and by appointment.

“This year, we’ve been getting so much traffic. Even when I think, ‘It’s horrible out; no one’s going to show up,’ they still show up.”

Customers also know they can find Briar Rose and other cheeses at Good Company Cheese in Newberg. Owner Kristen Kidney says, “There has been a concerted effort for small businesses to support other family-owned businesses, and this year, a spotlight has been directed on why that’s important.”

Since opening her shop, Kidney also has witnessed growing partnerships with wineries. Her rotating seasonal selections are featured at the Dobbes Family Estate tasting room in Dundee.  “I can tailor it to fit their needs logistically and provide cheeses that are easy to handle and pair well with their wines. We’ve hit a rhythm, and it works really well — definitely a big boon for the lean months.”

Which brings us back to Briar Rose. Good Company has recently been supplying cheeses to Adelsheim Vineyard for remote tastings. The winery requested selections from women-owned and -operated creameries; Briar Rose selections were at the top of the list.

“In a couple hours, they will be picking up 64 orders of hand-wrapped and -labeled cheese,” said Kidney. “They are great people and amazing to work with. They wanted very specifically to create a mutually beneficial partnership, and it’s so appreciated.”

The Cheeses


The soft, bloomy-rind cow’s milk cheese offers a velvety texture before maturing into a custard-like taste experience. Need a smaller size? Ask for Butterbaby.


Think Gruyere and Fontina. The semi-firm, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese contains a dense, chewy paste and melts well. Slightly sharp on the finish, the cheese is aged three-plus months. 


The semi-soft cow’s milk cheese contains a supple paste, a few eyes and an approachable flavor — imagine Havarti meets a classic Tomme. The aged cheese promises great melting and a lot of snacking, too.

Fata Morgana

Beautifully basket-shaped, the aged, rindless cheese tastes creamy yet crumbly. If you’re a fan of Briar Rose’s award-winning feta, then try this version with cow’s milk.

Fromage Blanc

Made with Ayrshire cow’s milk, this cheese has a similar texture to Briar Rose’s chèvre — imagine a blend of the finest whipped butter and cream cheese.


The semi-firm, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese can best be described as raclette meets Havarti and Fontina. The aged cheese’s slightly funky taste entices and fudgy texture certainly satisfies.


The soft, washed-rind cow’s milk cheese presents a custard-like, fudgy texture that gets softer and more luscious with age. The Mini Maia is also available.





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