Northwest Washington: Cheese Galore

Pleasant Valley Dairy

In the Pacific Northwest, there are several 'pockets,' if you will, of artisan cheesemakers. I mentioned Canada's Okanagan Valley a few months ago, an area home to over one hundred wineries and eight cheesemakers. Northwest Washington is another one of those cheesemaking regions, with seven artisan cheesemakers. Here's a roundup.

Let's start in the north, near Birch Bay in Whatcom County. Pleasant Valley Dairy's George Train started making cheese in the 1970s, in the process becoming one of the Pacific Northwest's first artisan cheesemakers. George's daughter Joyce now runs the business with her family and continues the tradition of making outstanding farmstead Gouda cheese (and a couple of other styles as well) from their mixed herd of Jersey, Brown Swiss and Milking Shorthorn cows. Pleasant Valley's cheese is available at the on farm store and at Everybody's Store in Van Zandt. To the east a bit in Custer is Grace Harbor Farms. Tim and Grace Lukens originally acquired goats prior to Y2K (they chuckle about it now) but later turned the goats into a business making soap, lotions and cheese from their milk. The Lukens' friendly farm is open to the public and you can purchase all of their products on site as well as walk around a bit and pet a few goats. Silver Springs Creamery, in Lynden, is not currently open for visitors but check back next season. After a barn fire last year, Eric Sundstrom is busily rebuilding a visitor friendly operation and hopes to offer the ice cream and sorbet that he's already selling at farmer's markets, as well as his rich cheeses made from Jersey cow's milk. The largest of this pocket of cheeesmakers is Appel Farms. John and Rich Appel now run the dairy farm their dad Jack started in the 1960s. They make a popular yogurt style Quark that's distributed nationally, paneer cheese as well as feta, cheddar and gouda. The Appel's visitor friendly farm has an on site shop and offers fresh cheese curds as well as the whole line of cheeses. You can also see the original wooden vat where Jack Appel made his first cheeses.

A little farther south in the Skagit Valley you'll find three more cheesemakers all within a few miles of one another. Golden Glen Creamery was a cow's milk dairy for several decades before going into the cheese business a few years ago. They sell bottled milk as well as a full line of cheeses including cheddar and gouda; visitors can stop by the on farm store to purchase cheese. Just across the field from Golden Glen is Gothberg Farms. Rhonda Gothberg does amazing things with the milk of less than 20 goats - her fresh chevres, feta and aged cheeses all sell out quickly and it's no wonder, they're exceptionally well crafted...in other words, delicious. Samish Bay Cheese Co.'s Roger and Suzanne Wechsler have been making organic cow's milk cheese for almost a decade. They're known for their aged cheeses including gouda and their signature Montasio and Port Edison. More recently the Wechslers have unveiled a line of fresh cheeses like feta, farmer's cheese and queso fresco. Both Golden Glen Creamery and Samish Bay Cheese Co. have on site shops and welcome visitors - check their respective web sites for hours and availability. If you're in the Skagit Valley, stop by Slough Food in Edison, just down the road a bit from Samish Bay Cheese Co. This well appointed cheese and food shop features many of the area's cheeses.