Oregon Cheese Festival Wrap-up
by Lassa Skinner
There's a lot of new and interesting cheesemakers in Oregon, and there's no better place to meet and greet them and taste their handiwork than the Oregon Cheese Festival, which just celebrated its 9th anniversary on Saturday, March 16, 2013, which is put on by the Oregon Cheese Guild and Rogue Creamery.
The night before the Festival, the Cheesemakers' Dinner (this year held at the Ashland Springs Hotel) is really the way to get inside scoop and have quieter time with producers. And to be treated to an unbelievable menu with cheese incorporated in every course--with a different local wine to match. Retailers, take note: Come in a day early to take part in this! This year, too, Chester Hastings (LA-based chef, monger and author of The Cheesemonger's Kitchen) was there to participate in the dinner as well as put on a seminar on Saturday be part of the beer & cheese judging. He's terrific, honestly. Down to earth and full of respect for all the producers and makers that we know and love - and rely on, so much.
Held outside the much-loved Rogue Creamery in Central Point, southern Oregon in a massive tent set up with vendors in a farmers market-style layout, the Festival itself is the place for those who want to see what new products are being produced in the region as well as a smattering of others from outlying areas.
culture has participated most years with a booth and copies to all attending the seminars and Meet the Cheesemakers and Winemakers dinner. Taking breaks throughout the festival - which runs from 10am-5pm - to sample and scout out interesting items, I found incredible gluten-, soy- and corn-free crackers from More Than A Cracker worth placing an order for. I also fell for the thistle-renneted cheeses from Oak Leaf Creamery (Dave Peterson grows his own cardoons in Grants Pass, OR to use as rennet, possibly the only commercial cheesemaker in the country to do this for all of his cheesemaking needs). And then there was the Crater Lake Sweet Ginger Vodka (Bend, OR) made from candied ginger that not only cleansed the palate but made me need to pull a chair to the booth and take a time out.
Well known for its winemaking, Oregon had a large showing of southern Oregon winemakers, and the Viognier produced locally was my pick of the best (though I managed to find plenty of varietals that made my Pinot-loving palate very happy). Beer-wise, it was hard to dislike anything. I went to a beer & cheese judging seminar led by Steve Jones (owner of Portland's Cheese Bar) that featured unions between local brewers and cheesemakers: Deschutes & Tumalo Farms, Rogue Creamery & Rogue Ales, Oakshire Brewing & Pholia Farms. To make cheese with beer is an inspired and fantastic thing!
Keep an eye on the Oregon Cheese Guild's future plans, they've got an active and steady eye on what's important and how to create more sustainable growth and support for its members and future makers. The Wedge, another Oregon Cheese Guild event held in southeast Portland takes place this year on Saturday, October 5th from noon-5pm outside Rogue Ale's Green Dragon Bistro & Brewpub. culture will be there - and SO SHOULD YOU! (for more info, see oregoncheeseguild.org)