I don’t get many Oregon cheeses back in Minnesota – save for some Rogue Creamery blues and blocks of Tillamook cheddar at Trader Joe’s – so it was a pleasure to discover the state’s true range of cheesy goodness during my recent visit. Though my snug-fitting pants can attest to the enthusiasm with which I ate my way through the state, today we’ll focus on three cheese revelations: two from established favorite cheesemakers and one from a new-to-me artisan.
I couldn’t leave Rogue Creamery without a blue, and when I laid my eyes on Brutal Blue in the cheese case, I knew that one was my souvenir. A raw cow’s-milk cheese, Brutal Blue is aged for three years, which results in deep, almost green veining and a strong funk. “This one is only for the strong,” Rogue Creamery cheese shop manager Tom Van Voorhees told me as he sliced my wedge. Consider me a toughie then – I loved it, as did my 5-year-old, who never turns down a blue. The minerally grit of the blue streaks is oddly appealing, imparting a woodsiness and peppery bite, and despite its age Brutal Blue maintains the creaminess all Rogue blues are known for. Rarely found outside Oregon, Brutal Blue is one to snap up if you’re at the creamery.
After Tom wrapped up my Brutal Blue, I wandered over to the non-Rogue cheese case and was happy to find a few Pholia Farm cheeses. It had been more than three years since I tasted its Elk Mountain, and I was eager to try other varieties from Rogue River Valley’s premier goat cheese maker. Ultimately, Covered Bridge won a coveted spot in my cheese cooler. A raw-milk cheese washed in neighboring Wild River Brewing’s Nut Brown Ale, Covered Bridge is light, lactic and bursting with floral and herbal notes. Yes, it tastes like spring – funny how cheeses made with springtime milk do that, right? That’s why, after aging for three months, you’ll find Covered Bridge in the summer and fall, peeking out from beneath its brown speckled rind with tiny cheese eyes.
My third Oregon cheese was a delightful farmers market surprise as my husband and I stumbled across a midday Portland market on a sunny Wednesday. Once I spotted the sign for Goldin Artisan Goat Cheese, I beelined to the booth and scooped up an oozing wedge of its Pur et Simple bloomy-rind goat cheese. That and a hunk of baguette was all I needed for a satisfying lunch.
French native Carine Golden, who grew up in the dairy-rich Savoie region, came to American eight years ago with dreams of creating luscious goat’s-milk cheeses, and she now lovingly crafts a variety of French-inspired cheeses on an Alpine goat farm near Molalla on the east side of the Willamette Valley. Though I sampled cheese both soft and firm at the market, Pur et Simple won its way from my heart into my stomach. Cool, creamy and uber-fresh, the cheese practically melted onto my Pearl Bakery baguette, bursting with light, grassy sweetness. I had no knife, so like any good cheese-eating savage would, I tore off jagged hunks of bread and stabbed and scooped the cheese until it disappeared, licking my fingers with each bite. A pretty scene? No, but tasty. Admit it – you’d act the same way.
Tomorrow on our whistle stop tour of the West: Washington cheesemakers and shops!