Northwest Cheese Top Stories of 2010

Recalls, Seizures Without a doubt, the biggest NW cheese story of 2010 - in fact, the biggest cheese story of the year, period - was the series of events that started in February with Estrella Family Creamery's first recall of cheese. The Estrellas continued to make headlines throughout the year, culminating in the FDA seizure in October and its ongoing aftermath. Later in December, we witnessed the e coli outbreak that was eventually traced to cheese made by Sally Jackson. But the overall food safety story is much bigger than these two producers (others were also caught up in the recall net, including Bravo Farms in California) - I think we are going to see regulatory changes in the future that will have wide reaching effect on the cheese we love to eat. Stay tuned.

Oregon State University Bequest  This news has flown largely under the radar but I think its effects will be HUGE for the cheese industry in Oregon. OSU announced in early December that it received a $860,000 donation that will be devoted to developing an OSU Dairy Center. OSU is reviving its shuttered creamery as a cheesemaking incubator for new cheesemakers and I'm looking forward to the promised Beaver Cheese coming in 2011. The state's cheesemaking community will benefit from this for years to come. Watch out Vermont!

Beecher's Expands to NYC  Seattle's favorite urban cheesemaker announced in March of 2010 that they will open a new satellite store in New York City in early 2011. This represents a significant expansion of Kurt Dammeier's cheese empire and provides a new growth model for the industry. Will other small-mid sized cheesemakers follow suit? Will New Yorkers love their new Flatiron cheese as much as Seattleites love Flagship? Only time will tell.

Artisan Cheese Renaissance Ongoing in the NW  I keep thinking that at some point the rapid increase in numbers of small cheesemakers in the Pacific NW will decline or at least slow down but that's not been the case...2010 was a banner year for the business. New cheesemakers in the region this year included Yarmuth Farms and Tieton Farm and Creamery in Washington, Cheese Louise Creamery in Oregon and two new sheep's milk dairies in Idaho, Lark's Meadow Farm and Blue Sage Farm. Another demonstration of the region's ongoing love affair with cheese was the opening of a new cheese shop in Seattle in May: Calf & Kid.

Closures/Evolutions  Despite an ongoing recession, only a few cheesemakers left the fold this year, including Siskiyou Crest Goat Dairy in Southern Oregon (which voluntarily surrended its licensed cheesemaker status in favor of selling goat shares) and Sally Jackson in Washington. The loss of industry pioneer Sally Jackson's cheeses is a blow for the entire cheesemaking community and represents, on a number of levels, the end of an era.

Awards Keep Rolling In The awards for cheeses made in the Pacific Northwest continue. At the American Cheese Society Conference held in Seattle, NW Cheesemakers took 42 awards in a wide range of categories. I was especially pleased to see tiny Mystery Bay Farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington pull out top honors for flavored chevre - that's among 1400+ entries! While you might be inclined to think that awards are solely about marketing (and that's true to an extent) they are also about having your products judged alongside those of your peers. These awards demonstrate that our region's cheeses are as good or better than any cheese in the nation.

In Memoriam  This year saw the passing of two bright lights in our region's cheesemaking community: Chuck Evans of Rollingstone Chevre in Idaho and Kathy Obringer of Ancient Heritage Dairy in Oregon.

Happy New Year!

** Reminisce with the Northwest Cheese Top Stories of 2009

Recall News Roundup & Fundraising Update for Estrella Family Creamery

Estrella Family Creamery

Fundraising for Estrella Family Creamery

A fundrasing pledge page has been set up for Estrella Family Creamery as they wage their battle with the FDA; supporters have raised almost $8,000 so far towards the considerable legal expenses faced by the family. A blog & Facebook page have also been set up to help publicize the campaign - see below for links to all.

Pledge Page

Help the Estrella Family Creamery Blog

Save the Estrella Family Creamery on Facebook

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In addition, there have been a number of news articles popping up on issues related to the Estrellas, Bravo Farms, the FDA and raw milk generally. Here's a brief roundup; if you're aware of others let me know and I will add any/all to the list.

* * * * Capital Press

FDA Seizure Leaves Cheesemaker Depleted by Steve Brown

* * * * Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)

Raw Milk Cheese in the Northwest, Elsewhere on FDA Radar by Lynne Terry

* * * * Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA)

Raw Milk Cheese Faces New Scrutiny by Robert Rodriguez

* * * * New York Times

Small Cheesemaker Defies FDA over Recall by William Neuman

As Cheesemaking Blooms, So Can Listeria by William Neuman

Slideshow: Estrella Family Creamery

Estrella Family Creamery Shut Down by FDA

I'm sorry to report that on Thursday October 21st, 2010, the FDA shut down Estrella Family Creamery.

From the Estrella website:

Dear Friends - Last night about 5:30 three cars pulled into the yard with FDA and Federal Marshals, alarming our kids. They posted a seizure order that named all cheeses on the property. This is serious, it could put us out of business.

See Kelli Estrella's full statement here.

The FDA has not released any information so there is currently no way of knowing the reasons behind this most recent action. I'll post more information as soon as I find it.

update: according to Seattle Local Food, the closure was NOT the result of any particular incident and the Estrellas had no recent positive listeria tests. Kelli Estrella provided copies of inspection records at the University Farmers Market Saturday.

update: see subsequent posting here. According to the FDA, there were a number of recent positive listeria tests, as recently as late August 2010.