The Skagit Valley is known for its Tulip Festival, but as it happens, this fertile valley is also home to a number of cheesemakers - Appel Farms, Pleasant Valley Dairy, Samish Bay Cheese Co., and Golden Glen Creamery. It's easy to cruise up and down I-5 in this area of Northwest Washington without thinking about it, but if you have the time it's worth stopping at one or all of these farms, all within a few miles of the freeway. (See also this article in the Seattle Times for a Skagit Valley cheese travelogue). Recently I meandered off of the freeway myself and discovered Bow, Washington, a tiny town tucked between I-5 and the coast just south of Bellingham. It's easy to forget how close you are to the coast when you're driving through the area - the farms along the Chuckanut Drive route could just as well be anywhere in the Midwest. And, nestled in this pastoral niche of the valley is Golden Glen Creamery, which is easy to find - just turn left at the "Cheese 1 -1/2 mi." sign.
Golden Glen's history was covered extensively in this article in the Skagit Valley Herald, but here's a summary: the creamery was founded after some soul searching on the part of the Jensen family, who have owned their dairy farm for over 40 years. The last several decades have not been easy for dairy farmers nationwide; many have difficulty maintaining their livelihood as milk prices have plummeted at the same time as costs have skyrocketed. According to the Skagit Valley Herald, ten percent of the dairies in Skagit county are going under every year as a result of the economic difficulties inherent in the dairy business. One idea that the Jensen family came up with as a solution to their own plight was to make cheese from some of their milk - a more profitable product with the potential to increase the dairy's bottom line. After taking cheesemaking classes in California, the "Jensen Ladies," as they call themselves (that's Brandy, Andrea and Judy) started making cheese in August of 2004. Currently production levels are at about 500 pounds of cheese per week made from a fraction of the milk of their 350 cow herd (mostly Holstein with a few Guernseys). They hope to eventually use around 15% of the milk they produce to make cheese when they're up to peak production capacity.
Golden Glen's cheese store, office and nerve center is located in a small outbuilding on one side of farm and is designated by a small "cheese store" sign. The spread reminds me of my uncle's dairy farm in Wisconsin - the farmhouse, the milking barn nearby, various outbuildings, busy farmers trekking in and out of the nearby house and barn, kids playing. A friendly dog serves as greeter, and the refrigerated display case teems with packaged cheese of all sorts - a variety of goudas both plain and flavored with various herbs including dill, thyme and garlic as well as jalapeno, cracked pepper and cumin; a variety of cheddars, cheese curd and fresh mozzarella. Golden Glen also sells holiday cheese gift boxes.
I really enjoyed visiting Golden Glen and the Jensen family farm. Unlike some operations I've visited, it's authentic and unpretentious. At this farm, artisan cheese is inseparable from the land, the cows and the people whose collective hard work creates artisan cheese....easy to forget when you're standing in Whole Foods, staring at a plastic-wrapped package of cheese and comparing it to the hundred-other packages nearby.
Coming next: Tasting Golden Glen's Medium Gouda and Thyme Cheddar
Golden Glen Creamery 15098 Field Road Bow, WA 98232 360-766-MILK
open Tuesday - Saturday 10AM - 4PM