Did you feel the shift in the magnetic forces of Northwest cheesemaking this weekend? If you did, I'm here to report that the source of that murmur was the christening of the new Estrella Family Creamery cheese cave. Steve Jones of Steve's Cheese in Portland, his newest employee Jessica, and I drove up from Portland for the festivities.
This was my first time visiting the Estrellas' farm....it's a gorgeous piece of property tucked in amidst rolling hills near Montesano, about 50 miles east of the Washington Coast. The Wynoochee River runs through the property. They've got a herd of goats on one end of the farm, near the house; several varieties of cows including the French Normande (a breed you don't see much in the Northwest) graze down the hill, a little farther down. Chickens forage in a spacious coop near the goats, and look to be well fed with dozens of wheels of cheese rejects strewn about their enclosure. Enjoy that cheese, chickens - we're jealous!
All of the magic happens at the creamery, the nerve center of the farm. The Estrellas run a small store (open on Saturdays) that's connected to the cheesemaking and storage/aging facility. I've seen a whole bunch of cheesemakers' caves and I've never seen anything like the Estrellas' existing storage coolers, brimming with a huge variety of cheeses in all shapes and sizes - small goat crottins, cow's milk pyramids, cheeses wrapped in chestnut leaves, and an entire section devoted solely to smelly, beautiful washed rinds. I can only imagine what the new cave will look like when it's filled - it's at least three or more times the capacity of what they have now.
Soon enough, the cave christening got underway. Pastor Dave Hatcher provided the blessing, and next Chef Roy Breiman from Salish Lodge, along with Anthony and Kelli Estrella, opened champagne in dramatic Napoleonic style (with a saber) and doused the stones, making the event a literal christening. The cave itself - named Cave Beulah, a biblical reference connoting blessedness and fruitfulness - is large and roomy. I'm not a great judge of dimensions but it's at least 20 or more feet long and 10 feet wide and surrounded by a carefully constructed water cooling system that will help keep the cheese temperate inside.
After the dedication all were treated to a feast put together by Chef Breiman and his crew. Among the delicious offerings were a whole spit roasted goat, fresh mussels and oysters from Taylor Shellfish Farms served with a number of sides like organic greens, farro salad and a lovely Chard gratin with marscapone. Included - of course - was a mouth watering cheese course consisting solely of Estrella Family Creamery cheeses. We were especially blown away by the fresh butter which the Estrellas had churned especially for the occasion, which was impossibly yellow and fragrant. Folks from Cafe Flora in Seattle created a Raspberry Nectarine Tart with fresh Estrella cream whipped on the spot....but sadly, we had a long drive ahead of us so we missed out on dessert.
Cheesemakers work long hours every day and the job of making cheese can be a hard, long haul. Often I hear some of the strain in their voices even as they're talking about their dreams. On this day, the Estrellas simply celebrated, and the best thing about the event was that joy.