Nibbling on the Oregon Cheese Trail

By Heather Larson

FAMOUS FOR ITS WINE AND SCENIC BEAUTY, the Beaver State has also made its mark in the world of cheese. Cheesemakers across Oregon have banded together and created a Cheese Trail. Whether you prefer blues, chèvres or cheddars; cheese from cows, goats or sheep; everyone should find something that tickles their palate. Stick to a single region like Portland, the Coast or Willamette Valley; explore all the creameries on the western side of the state; or visit everyone on the trail and take a cheese-cation. 

Ancient Heritage Dairy, Portland
Taylor Dinsmore has worked as head cheesemaker for the past year. His restaurant background and engineering degree give him a deeper understanding of how to create tasty food. Popular products include two cheeses made from both cow’s and sheep’s milk: Adelle, a French-style bloomy-rind, and Willow Creek, a washed-rind incorporating both milks. The best seller is their award-winning Hannah, a Spanishstyle hard, aged cheese that won first place at the American Cheese Society in 2016. Although you can watch the cheese being made through their windows, they only open to the public the first Friday evening of each month. You’ll find their products, with four or five sample tastings available, at various area farmers markets, including the one located at Portland State University, which is held on Saturdays and open year-round.

Tillamook Cheese, Tillamook
A household name across the nation, Tillamook Cheese has won 750 awards since its inception in 1904. The factory has long been a traveler’s destination―to watch the cheese being made, to taste curds, for the scrumptious ice cream and as a much-needed respite from a long drive. In the summer of 2018 a brand-new facility will open with more space for visitors, new food options, an expanded ice cream counter (yeah!), a small theater and an enhanced observation deck where you can view the cheese making process. Rather than close during construction, Tillamook has set up a temporary Red Barn for visitors, where you can get ice cream, squeaky cheese curds, food at the café and purchase souvenirs. And don’t worry, master cheesemaker Dale Baumgartner still makes that yummy cheddar.

Willamette Valley Cheese, Salem, Oregon
Specializing in a farmstead style, Willamette Valley Cheese crafts 35 different varieties of artisanal cheeses. Because they handmake each one, every batch of cheese looks and tastes a little different. Those include creamy Havarti, flavored cheddars, Brindisi (aged fontina), Pinot Crush Gouda, a variety of specialty cheeses and many more. Willamette Valley Cheese has garnered more than 25 awards for their cheese, including first place from the 2015 American Cheese Society for their Chive & Smoked Black Pepper Gouda.
Their goudas reign as their signature product, so go ahead and eat some with a brew. Suggested beer pairings are: IPA, pale ale and lager with plain gouda; amber with smoked gouda; and stout with cumin gouda. Visitors can taste as many cheeses as they want.

Umapine Creamery, Milton-Freewater, Oregon
Cheesemaker Yvonne Carroll says she talks to the cheese, then listens to what it has to say. She makes Juglans with walnuts toasted in butter, cinnamon and sugar and says it pairs well with apples. Just Cheese, named because no seasoning has been added, goes well in creamed eggs. All Umapine cheeses come from raw milk, and Carroll says it takes at least 60 days to see if it’s a winner or a flop. Visitors get a chance to see a working dairy farm, tour the operation and enjoy a tasting.