In addition to being famous for rain, rain, and more rain, The Beaver State is also replete with extraordinary victuals: mushrooms (for obvious meteorological reasons), wine and cheese. After a recent trip to Oregon wine country, I was enchanted with the cheeses, and wanted to learn more. So, who ya gonna call? The Cheese Chick, of course! I spoke with Christine Hyatt, A.K.A. The Cheese Chick, an aficionado who serves on the board of the American Cheese Society and works closely with the Oregon Cheese Guild, which helps promote one of the state's star products.
"I have my own company, but I work very closely with the Guild to help market their products," says Hyatt, who lives in Beaverton, Oregon. "Education is critical in this business, so last summer I produced videos for the Guild to help tell the story of cheese and its journey from farm to market."
The Chick enjoys wine with cheese, of course, but also suggests pairing them up with fruit: fresh fruit in the summer with young cheeses, and dried fruit or dried fruit chutney in the cooler months and with stronger cheeses. (See her recipe for Dried Cherry Chutney, below.)
When asked about her favorite cheeses, Hyatt is hesitant, because she appreciates and respects all the cheese makers in the state. "Many of our cheeses are seasonal, so they are available from early summer until the stock is depleted. Most kids and calves are born in the spring, and since cheese is a by-product of reproduction, some small farmers simply can't make enough cheese to last all year."
With that in mind, I know I have to wait a few months to procure newly made 2008 young chevres, but right now, there are many other Oregon cheeses available. Following are some of Hyatt's mail order recommendations:
Located in Central Point, this 70-year old company specializes in hand made, sustainable, organic, artisanal blue and cheddar cheeses. "Rogue produces world class blues," says Hyatt.
The rich, complex 2001 Eola Hills Winery LBV Cabernet Port stands up to these pungent blues. Another sweet to try: Cathedral Ridge's 2005 Riesling with its luscious, full-blown notes of honey and apricots. For Pinot lovers, the 2005 Cristom Pinot Noir is a full-bodied potable that stands up to Rogue's robust cheddars.
JUNIPER GROVE FARM
The goat cheese producers at Juniper Grove in Central Oregon are proud that their critters are outside all year and blessed with plenty of fresh air and clean Cascade Mountain water.
The Cheese Chick loves Tumalo Tomme (an unpasteurized mountain-style cheese), but also recommends the earthy Cumin Tomme, Redmondo (similar to Pecorino Romano), and Thor's Special Smoked Crottin, a young cheese smoked over maple wood.
Sip a chilled 2006 St. Innocent Pinot Blanc for an aperitif pairing. Or, for a heartier beverage, try the unfiltered, unrefined 2006 Toluca Lane Pinot Noir.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY CHEESE COMPANY
The Chick says we shouldn't miss the WV Company's Italian-style Fontina which she describes as "extraordinary!" This cow's milk cheese is good as is, or used for making fondue. "And don't miss the Willamette Valley Cheese Company's hand crafted aged Gouda," says the Chick.
The berry-ripe 2006 Penner Ash Rubeo, which has appealing hints of toasted oak. Another option? For a heartier drink, pour a glass of the full-bodied 2006 Willamette Valley Vineyards 2006 Pinot Noir, which has enough tannins to stand up to the bold taste of Gouda as well as lamb, beef, and venison.
This sustainable farm specializes in goat cheeses made from the milk of Saanens and French Alpine goats, which are apparently a great match to the weather and altitude in Bend, Oregon. The Cheese Chick describes Tumalo's products as "…really fine gouda-style goats' milk cheeses.…"
The 2004 Bethel Heights Chardonnay is a medium-bodied, slightly floral white that stands up to the nutty flavors in the cheese. Prefer a red? The berry-rich 2004 Hood River Valley Merlot from Mount Hood Winery is a luscious companion to these Gouda-style cheeses.
Four to try:
Tumalo Farms Fenacho (fragrant with fenugreek)
Tumalo Farms Classico (much like a classic Gouda)
Tumalo Farms Capricorns (pungent with peppercorns)
Tumalo Farms Pond Hopper (made with a local microbrew)
Located at the base of Elk Mountain in Jackson County, this off-the-grid dairy is perfect for tree huggers and anyone anxious to support a low carbon footprint farm. Oh, and their goat cheeses--produced by the milk of Nigerian goats--are great, too.
Named after local landmarks, each cheese is distinctive in terms of processing, shape and flavor.
Pholia's young, fresh cheeses marry well with the equally fresh-tasting 2006 St. Innocent Pinot Blanc. Or, try a light Pinot Noir, such as Adelsheim's 2006 vintage.
Visit Christine Hyatt on the web at www.cheese-chick.com
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup dried tart cherries
½ small onion, finely minced
2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar or cherry cider
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the cherries, onion, and vinegar and simmer gently 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand until the liquid has been absorbed. Before serving, add walnuts and toss gently to mix.