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

In Memory: Kathy Obringer of Ancient Heritage Dairy


Kathy Obringer

Last week cheesemaker Kathy Obringer of Oregon's Ancient Heritage Dairy passed away. According to husband Paul, she had a heart condition that turned critical suddenly. "It's so hard not having her here,"says Paul, "but she has left us a great reservoir of love."

Kathy and Paul started Ancient Heritage Dairy in 2006. Former city folk, their journey led them to the farming life after several of their children developed allergies. They went on to start the first all-sheep's milk cheesemaking operation in Oregon. Kathy, a painter and sculptor, found a new way to express herself in the art of making cheese; she developed the recipes for Ancient Heritage cheeses including the much loved bloomy-rinded Adelle and Valentine. Turns out Kathy was a natural and her cheeses became popular with cheese lovers all over the country. She continued to do fine art in her (rarer and rarer) spare time; you can catch a glimpse of her artwork on the labels of Ancient Heritage cheeses, which feature designs she painted.

I knew Kathy for just a few years as a cheesemaker. One of the things I found most striking about her is that she felt a mission that went well beyond the commercial enterprise of making cheese. She once said she felt joined, by the act of making cheese, to cheesemakers throughout the centuries, nurturing human health with their products. Kathy was a gentle soul whose passion for her family, her farm and her animals was evident in everything she did.

David Gremmels, owner of Rogue Creamery in Southern Oregon, visited the Obringer's farm several years ago with Max McCalman. He said that Kathy made a lasting impression on both of them. "Her talent, passion and commitment to cheesemaking taught me to see cheesemaking as art. She contributed greatly to Oregon's artisan cheese renaissance and she will be greatly missed by all of us in the cheesemaking community."

The Obringer family deeply appreciates all of your thoughts and prayers. While they request privacy during this very difficult time, they plan to hold an open house and celebration of Kathy's life next summer.