The "Do It Yourself" movement that gained mainstream popularity in the late 1990s with home makeover TV shows has morphed into the food arena. It's a long-armed, straight reach back in time to when the matriarchs of generations gone-by made everything from scratch after doing the growing and raising themselves. A return to handmade versus manufactured rejects artificial fillers, chemical additives and the unnatural processes by which manufactured "food-like" substances are created. It's as if people are literally putting their forks down and saying "Enough of this. I want something real that both tastes good and is good for my body." Enter delicious and good-for-you foods such as jam, yogurt, ice cream, bread and baked goods to smoked meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables made locally by people that just might be your neighbor.
Skip fluorescent cheeses with ingredient lists you can't decipher and open your arms to welcome the burgeoning Northwest Artisan Cheesemaker movement. Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle, Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend and Tillamook Cheese in Oregon are synonymous with Northwest cheese. Smaller Washington cheese making outfits include Gothberg Farm, Samish Bay Cheese and Golden Glen Creamery (Bow), Black Sheep Creamery (Adna), Backcountry Creamery (Tacoma), Kurtwood Farms (Vashon), Mountain Lodge Farm (Eatonville) and Blue Rose Dairy (Winlock).
Backcountry Creamery does a take on manchego cheese - creamy, slightly nutty and called Camp Chego. The faintest cinnamon and paprika are found in this cow's milk cheese. In operation little over a year, the five cheeses offered are made by hand by the Dargan family. Somewhat creamy, the St. Helens cheese from Black Sheep Creamery has a mild washed rind and subtle earthiness. Golden Glen Creamery has a four-year aged cheddar so sharp it makes the mouth tingle and give the illusion of peppery spice. Bloomy rind and creamy soft-ripened, Dinah's Cheese from Kurtwood Farms goes great with grape, pear, tomato jam or all by itself. Mountain Lodge Farm's Paradise goat cheese is super grassy, earthy and musky with a smooth mouth-feel. Black Mambazo by Samish Bay Cheese is an aged Ladysmith cheese (a cross between unaged white Queso Fresco and sheep cheese Ricotta Salata) delightfully coated in cocoa and chipotle.
If a trip out to the farm or to the point of production isn't in the plans, never fear. Farmers Market season is just around the corner; many artisan cheesemakers have booths. For regular purchases, check the shelves of Metropolitan Market, Marlene's Natural Foods Market & Deli, Dave's Meats & Produce, Tacoma Boys (Puyallup and Tacoma) and other specialty shops carry.
Unsure of what to buy? Intimidated by the higher price of handcrafted cheeses? Take fro mage lessons from Cheesemonger Julie Powers at Tacoma Metropolitan Market. Powers hosts a free, one-hour class the second Tuesday of each month featuring four to six cheeses ranging from stinky blues and salty crumblers to buttery creams and smoked firms. Learn about everything from the animals and farms to the people producing the cheese. An open mind and willingness to try new things will make the class a supreme experience.
Those already in love with artisan cheeses won't want to miss the eighth annual Seattle Cheese Festival May 19 and 20 at Pike Place Market. Much like the recent Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival held April 7, this is an opportunity to meet the cheese producers and ask questions. The largest, free, cheese-focused event features scads of cheese producers offering free samples of some of the world's tastiest cheeses. Enjoy educational cheese making classes, seminars, cooking demonstrations, beer and wine tasting, children's parade and grilled cheese recipe contest.