Way, way, waaaaaaaay out in North Central Washington, in the area that's also home to the Grand Coulee Dam (yep, that's in Washington) is a promising new Washington cheesemaker that's crafting sheep and goat's milk cheeses. Cheesemaker M.Clare Paris is a Washington native (she's originally from Bothell and South Whidbey Island) who has lived in Tonasket since the early 80s. For Clare and her husband, Sam Howell, developing a sustainable and healthy lifestyle for their family has long been high on their priority list. Along the way, they began to feel a responsibility to the community that supported that lifestyle. "We both feel so committed to this place," she says. "This is where our hearts are, and we wanted to come up with a way that a family can make a living on a small farm out here." They're doing just that with Larkhaven Farm, where they recently were formally licensed to make goat and sheep's milk cheeses commercially; they also sell farm raised lamb, pork and goats to the local community.
Having kids changed Clare's life in a lot of ways, but particularly in relation to food. "It really radicalized me in terms of food sources," she says. "I also started to feel burdened by the amount of packaging I was picking up every time I shopped, so producing more and more of our own food was just a natural development." She bought her first goat from a friend and started using the milk to make cheese for her family. "For awhile, my goal was just to make cheese for my family, and for Christmas presents," she remembers.
Cheesemaking evolved from there. Clare experimented with recipes from Ricki Carroll's Home Cheese Making book and worked to refine her own styles over a period of several years. Finding she outgrew that primer, Clare began to take classes, read and consult more widely, and finally, brought cheese consultant Peter Dixon out from Vermont, first for a community workshop and later for a personal consultation. She also received a lot of support from Washington's esteemed cheesemaker Sally Jackson, who lives up the road and has been making cheese since 1979. "Sally was really encouraging," says Clare. "She told me, 'I don't know why more people don't do what I do.' That made it all seem so possible."
Larkhaven's dairy goats and sheep (about thirty of each) are the basis of this burgeoning raw milk cheese operation. Currently Larkhaven is offering four styles of cheese: Shepherd's Gem, a Spanish-style sheep's milk cheese similar to Manchego; Cayuse Mountain Goat, a smooth yet open-textured hard goat cheese with a mild but complex flavor, Rosa Rugosa, a mold-ripened sheep and goat soft, aged cheese named after a local flower; and Whitestone Feta made from a combination of goat and sheep's milk and distinguished from fresh fetas by the depth of flavor brought on by aging.
If you're interested in tasting Larkhaven Farm's cheeses, you can order them directly from the farm for now….in the coming months, Larkhaven Farm cheese will be showing up at stores and restaurants in the Seattle, Spokane and Wenatchee areas, so residents of those areas should keep an eye out for beautiful artisan cheeses from this new artisan cheesemaker.
[photos courtesy Clare Paris]
* * * * * * * * * * *
Larkhaven Farm contact the farm via their website or call 509-486-1199