Singin' the Northwest Blues

Northwest Blue Cheese If you look at my evolving state cheesemaker listings in the left hand column over there, you'll find upwards of 50+ cheesemakers in the Pacific Northwest (depending on which states you count). But of all of the cheeses made by all of those cheesemakers, few are blue.

Northwest Blue Cheeses Currently Available

I don't need to tell you that Rogue Creamery makes a whole gaggle of outstanding blues, including its flagship Oregon Blue, Crater Lake Blue, Smokey Blue, Oregonzola, the sublime Rogue River Blue and the harder to find Echo Mountain Blue. Kelli Estrella of Estrella Family Creamery makes Wynoochee River Blue, an amazing cheese in the Stilton tradition. She's also got a new soft ripened blue called Partly Sunny - the only soft ripened blue in the Northwest. In the past, Black Sheep Creamery made Blue Ewe (sheep's milk), and Beecher's made Brad's Blue, but neither of these are available on a regular basis.

British Columbia is the source of  some outstanding blue cheeses: Moonstruck Organic Cheeses makes a great Beddis Blue (my personal favorite), as well as Blossom's Blue and Baby Blue;  Poplar Grove, in eastern BC, makes both Tiger Blue and Naramata Beach Blue.

A few other folks are in the process of experimenting with blue cheeses, like Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon. But that's about it for the Northwest. It's interesting to note that all of the currently available blues are made from either cow's milk or sheep's milk (with the exception of Rogue's Echo Mountain Blue, a combination of cow and goat's milk); there are no all goat blues on the Northwest horizon as of yet.

Why So Few Blues?

There are a number of reasons for this relative absence of blue cheese. One of the biggest is that  making blue cheese is an involved process that, if not done right, can go very bad very quickly. Once the curds are separated and the emerging cheese is pressed, cheesemakers usually pierce the wheels with a sharp object. This process allows air to penetrate the wheels (note the long vertical straight lines of blue in the above photo - those are artifacts of piercing). . . and air helps all of those happy blue molds develop inside the cheese. But viewing the process pragmatically, blue cheese looks more time and labor intensive from a cheesemaking perspective, especially if you're making dozens or hundreds of them at once.

And those happy blue cheese molds are notorious for contaminating other ripening (non-blue) cheeses in the vicinity (even in your refrigerator, it's better to keep blue cheese separate from other types of cheese so that the blue doesn't overpower the others).  As a result, cheesemakers that do delve into the rarefied world of blue cheese making typically keep the blues as separate as possible from other styles of cheese . . . this may involve making blue on a different day than other cheeses and/or storing and caring for the blue cheese separately from the rest. As you can imagine, this takes additional effort, space and expense.

I'm not implying that making blue cheese is impossible or even incredibly difficult, I'm saying that it's something of an art unto itself and tricky to get just right. As the artisan cheesemaking industry evolves and local cheesemakers become more successful, experienced and confident, I suspect we'll be seeing more blue cheese made in the Pacific Northwest. I for one am looking forward to that day! Until then, you're forgiven if you reach for Stilton when you've just got to have something blue.