Cheese can be simple or decadent. Even if, like me, you started with a Kraft American cheese slice on your Wonder Bread, anyone could appreciate an artisanal, handcrafted cheese.
A turophile is someone who fancies cheese. I fancy cheese. It is a perfectly portable protein and the cornerstone of a great picnic. It’s the discovery of the best crunchy bits of cheddar: crispy and stuck to the pan – a grilled cheese afterthought. Cheese offers comfort. It is satisfying and tells a story. Little Miss Muffett was in the know. From large scale production to small, handmade artisan creations, there is a multitude of varieties to try. I am happy to search for sunshine, curds and whey right here in our beautiful valley.
I recently visited Yakima’s Deep Sea Deli with the ladies of rooted, Shelley, Aileen and Andreana. The sign out front says, “We have Frog Legs”, and although intriguing, we are here for the cheese. The locally owned Deli is a food lover’s delight and provides Yakima with a treasure trove of items that would otherwise be hard to find. Danielle Shearer, who has been at Deep Sea Deli for 12 years, took us on a veritable cheese world tour. She knew her cheese by country, milk and texture: Yakima’s very own cheesemonger.
Cheeses of all varieties are showcased in the glass cabinet. Cheese greats such as Stilton from England, the famed Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy, the Manchego and Drunken Goat from Spain, Goudas from Holland, and triple crèmes from France share the shelf with regional beauties like California’s Humboldt Fog, and the award-winning Rogue River Blue from Oregon. Smack in the middle of this cultural cheese tour sits Yakima Valley’s own Bianca, Calypso and Venus from Tieton Farm and Creamery. Also available is Cougar Gold from WSU Creamery and Beecher’s Flagship from Seattle (and in the freezer, Beecher’s heart-stopping mac-n-cheese). Danielle offered us tastings, and we immediately zeroed in on the Calypso from Tieton Farm and Creamery. Who were we to resist a locally made, hop-infused cheese with a rind washed in beer?
Danielle placed delicate, thin slices on a spread of cheese paper. The Calypso’s flavor was reminiscent of a Manchego. Made with sheep and goat milk, it has a zippy tang. Next, we tried the Venus; its rind washed with Tieton Cider Works’ Cider. It is similar to the Calypso with a crumblier texture and milder flavor. The Bianca, a fresh, spreadable chèvre, is surprisingly sweet and versatile. Delicious.
We compared two cheddars: the Beecher’s Flagship from Seattle and WSU Creamery’s Cougar Gold. Beecher’s Flagship has lots of big robust flavor up front and is sharp, traditional. The Cougar Gold has a smooth intensity with a lingering finish. Both had winning, crumbly textures with a bit of grit. To choose one over the other felt a bit like picking the Huskies or the Cougars.
Cheese can evoke a memory, and Cougar Gold transports me to a particular spring barrel tasting weekend in Yakima when Portteus Winery served a Cougar Gold cheese fondue to their guests. It was bliss, and I may have forgotten (only temporarily) about tasting the wine. Here is the link to that recipe: https://creamery.wsu.edu/cougar-cheese/recipes/fondue1
After tasting some of Tieton Farm and Creamery’s creations at Deep Sea Deli, we were eager to visit the farm and meet owners, Ruth and Lori Babcock. Drawn to the Yakima Valley from the Seattle area, they started their farm in 2010. Fortunately, this private operation just hosted a farm tour as the babies have arrived and the milking season has begun. A scenic, 30-minute drive west from Yakima takes Aileen and me to an unassuming, dirt road. I roll down my window and catch a whiff of sweet hay mixed with barnyard smells.
An animal chorus greets us. The baby goats (or kids) have springs for legs and long, soft ears almost bigger than their bodies. As one shakes his head, I think he might take flight. There is a happiness factor here. Ruth and Lori tend to their herd of animals with obvious affection.
They farm with respectful intent using sustainable methods. Nothing is wasted. We caught up with Ruth, who told us they do not take the babies from their mothers until they are fully weaned, and everyone gets a break in January.
This is a farmstead operation which means they only use milk provided by their herd on the same land where they make the cheese. Lori, the cheesemaker, does not alter the milk as other larger scale operations might to maintain consistency. She embraces the nuances and subtle changes that occur as the herd grazes on pasture grasses. There are endless amounts of variables like weather. Tieton Farm and Creamery’s artisanal cheeses have a direct relationship to the land. Ruth told us Lori notices even the slightest change in the animals’ diet by how the milk reacts.
As we join the line for cheese and eggs, Lori looks up and gives Aileen a big smile. She offers us a taste of Sonnet, which is creamy with a delicate sweetness. We also taste the Bianca. Unlike the version we tried at Deep Sea Deli, Lori added a twist with a coat of fresh lemon and cracked pepper.
Spoon, please! All of their cheeses are made with a blend of sheep and goat milk. Lori and Ruth’s favorite is the Rheba similar to French Reblochon. As I move aside to allow the next visitor to taste, Lori sends me on my way with a turophile’s reminder to serve the cheeses at room temperature.
There is a romantic side to cheesemaking. I see it here in the lambs resting on each other and the dog lazily sunbathing amidst the chickens. I feel it in the uneven tractor tread of dirt beneath my boots, and I taste it in their carefully crafted cheese.
Notes: I’d like to say a big thank you to Danielle Shearer at Deep Sea Deli and to Ruth and Lori Babcock of Tieton Farm and Creamery for spending time with us and offering samples of their goods.
Although Tieton Farm and Creamery is not open to the public, Ruth and Lori enjoy taking their products to Farmers’ Markets and meeting their customers. http://tietonfarmandcreamery.com
The Yakima Farmers’ Market runs from May through October: http://yakimafarmersmarket.org
Danielle at Deep Sea Deli orders cheese on Tuesdays so if a particular cheese is calling your name, she is a resource: 20 N 9th Ave, Yakima, WA 98902. (509) 248-1484
The seasonal nature precluded us from trying another local cheese by Blue Barn Farm in Zillah, which will be available at Farmers’ Markets in May. http://bluebarnfarm.net
Potential disclaimer: The writer takes full responsibility for her taste buds and encourages readers to discover the cheeses mentioned above and draw their own happy conclusions.