When you think about cheese-producing states, chances are Wisconsin tops your list, followed by Vermont and California. Washington? Probably not, but in fact, there are an astounding number of artisan cheeses lovingly made in the Evergreen State, as I discovered during my September vacation. Sadly, I could only take home a few, but on the plus side, I know many, many others await me during my next visit.
One cheese I was determined to hunt down was Flagsheep, the mixed cow’s- and sheep’s-milk cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese that was named best in show at the 2012 American Cheese Society Awards. Oddly, Beecher’s didn’t have it when I stopped by its Pike Place Market location – I found it at Rogue Creamery instead! Apparently, I was lucky – Beecher’s owner Kurt Dammeier reported that he had only 25 wheels in stock at the time Flagsheep won its prestigious title. My reward was a hunk of sweetly sheepy caramel, with relatively little salt and a crumbly finish. Flagsheep would be an excellent grating cheese with its crystalline texture, but you wouldn’t want to mask its gently nutty flavor with a glop of marinara sauce. Instead, savor thin shards on a cheese board with some dried fruit and some bubbly or a dessert wine. Flagsheep deserves a celebration!
While Flagsheep should be enjoyed with restraint – if there’s not much available, don’t rush to finish your share! – Yarmuth Farm’s Nonna Capra can and should be relished with gusto. A bloomy-rind goat’s-milk cheese with a very high paste-to-rind ration, Nonna Capra offers an addicting creaminess that makes it hard to share. The cheese hails from a small farm 70 miles from Seattle in the Cascade Mountains, where the milk of 45 Nubian, La Mancha, and Alpine goats is blended to create a variety of fresh chevres and aged cheeses. Nonna Capra lacks a strong goaty flavor, favoring a cleaner approach, and doesn’t match the deep butteriness typically found in a cow’s-milk bloomy. That’s not a demerit, however; Nonna Capra appeals to those of us who appreciate cool, creamy bloomies that highlight the cheese’s pure milkiness rather than a rich, fatty mouthfeel. And yes, it’s definitely bubble-worthy.
Washington’s Whidbey Island is home to a new favorite – Glendale Shepherd‘s Island Brebis, a raw sheep’s-milk tomme. A wonderful mixture of salty, sweet and grassy notes, Island Brebis tastes like a brisk walk along the seashore. Its semi-firm texture and lack of oiliness make it particularly appealing. Sheep’s-milk cheeses are known to “sweat” lanolin, but Island Brebis holds up well at room temperature, allowing the cheese’s salt/sweet balance to shine rather than pooling into an oil slick. Yarmuth Farm suggests pairing Island Brebis with an IPA or a variety of wines – if I had to pick one, I’d go for a medium-bodied red, like an Oregon Pinot Noir, that doesn’t overpower the cheese’s delicate flavor.
We stay out West but head slightly inland with tomorrow’s featured cheese – be sure to stop by to see what the Beehive State has to offer.