Appel Farms is one of a group of Skagit Valley cheesemakers that are making a mark in Northwest cheesemaking. Along with other cheesemakers in the area, including Pleasant Valley Dairy, Samish Bay Cheese Co., and Golden Glen Creamery, this corner of Northwest Washington positively teems with artisan cheesemakers and microcreameries. Appel Farms stands out from many other cheesemakers I’ve visited because of its family and tourist-friendly atmosphere. I happened to visit during this past summer’s Cheesefest 2005 (held annually the last Saturday in June), and this event included a local radio station booth as well as people selling popcorn and cotton candy. In the background, the farm’s 300+ Holstein cows whiled away the time, perhaps watching bemusedly (but we’ll never know for sure).
While visiting (whether or not there’s a cheese festival going on), you can stop by the viewing room and peek through a window that looks onto the cheesemaking area. If you’re there later in the afternoon after the cheesemakers are done for the day, a video covers the basics of the cheesemaking process. The nearby cheese shop carries just about every variety of cheese Appel Farms makes, including quark, cheddars ranging from mild to sharp, fetas, cheese curd and goudas (plain and flavored) in a variety of bright packaging. One of the ways Appel Farms distinguishes itself in the world of cheese sales and marketing is by developing unique and unusual products. Toward this end, about 20 years ago Appel Farms started making and selling quark, a traditional German spreadable cheese. More recently, Appel Farms also started making paneer, a fresh Indian cheese. Because I was there during the Cheesefest, the store was also handing out freshly deep-fried cheese curd to whet our shopping appetites. This was my first taste of this Wisconsin staple, and all I can say is - mmmm. As you can see, this is a great tasting room to visit because of the variety (and quantity) of cheeses that you can sample.
Appel Farms is a family run operation. Jack Appel, the family patriarch, emigrated from the Netherlands and eventually found himself in the Pacific Northwest. Using cheesemaking skills brought over from Holland via experience in France, Jack Appel began the family tradition of cheesemaking in the United States, a tradition now carried on by sons John (who runs the cheesemaking side of the business) and Rich (who manages the cows).
When I think about my visit to Appel Farms the strongest image in my mind is of the kids runnning around the farm – and this is definitely a place designed with children in mind. And when kids visit Appel Farms, they’re not only having a great time, they're making connections between what they eat and how it’s made. Appel Farms markets its cheese around a child and family-friendly environment that creates enthusiasm around the brand....I’m reminded of Beecher's Handmade Cheese, which is doing something similar with its Pike Place Market shop, encouraging people to view the cheesemaking process and ask questions about artisan cheese (and, of course, buy cheese as well).
Appel Farms cheeses are available in many Northwest Washington stores including Safeway, Haggens, Whole Foods and others. You can also find Appel Farms products at Western Washington farmer’s markets during the season (late spring through early fall). Appel Farms paneer is available in Portland at New Seasons. I have occasionally seen other Appel Farms cheeses in Oregon stores, but only sporadically.
Appel Farms 6605 Northwest Road Ferndale, WA 98248 (360) 312-1431
Farm and store open Mon-Sat 9AM – 6PM