The Milkman's Daughter: A Cheese Food Truck in Woodinville, Washington

Announcing: a theme for Summer of 2012! Call it the season of the cheese food cart and/or food truck. After announcing the debut of The Cheese Plate in Portland just recently, I've now learned of another mobile cheese operation starting up this week in Woodinville, Washington called The Milkman's Daughter. Founder Inger Herman envisions The Milkman’s Daughter as a unique combination of food truck, cheese shop, and gourmet delicatessen that is a perfect complement to wine. Delivered in a gorgeous vintage 1956 Ford panel truck, Herman plans to sell cheese and savories out of the back of the truck to patrons of Woodinville’s renowned wineries and tasting rooms... a sort of mobile deli for all of your picnic and noshing needs. Whether you want to enjoy your purchases immediately as you taste or bring them home to enjoy later, Herman plans to carry selections that fit every need. In addition, The Milkman’s Daughter is committed to carrying cheeses and savories that support local cheese makers and businesses producing artisan products.

Inger Herman first came up with the idea for a cheese food truck when on an anniversary trip with her husband Steve. Wine enthusiasts, Inger and Steve were on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada (home to artisan cheesemakers Salt Spring Island Cheese Company and Moonstruck Organic Cheese Co.) enjoying a selection of artisan cheeses with their wine when Inger realized that wineries and tasting rooms were lacking artisan cheeses and accompaniments to enhance their customers' experience. As a result, The Milkman’s Daughter came to be.

You can find The Milkman’s Daughter truck today and tomorrow - that's Friday July 6 and Saturday July 7th - at Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville, Washington. Follow The Milkman's Daughter on Twitter or Facebook to find where it will be next!

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The Milkman's Daughter info@milkmansdaughtertruck.com (425) 301-6584 Twitter:  @Luv_Chz

[photo by Jean Johnson Productions]

Trout Lake Cheese Caves

Trout Lake Cheese Caves

If you've ever actually been in a natural underground cave you know that it's not just pitch dark inside the cave, but cold. In the millenia before the invention of refrigeration, this was a useful property, and people living in areas with natural caves took advantage of them to preserve food.

As it happens, we have lots of naturally occurring caves in the Pacific Northwest, the result of dramatic volcanic upheaval that took place thousands and millions of years ago. In particular, the western part of Klickitat County, Washington (in the shadow of Mt. Adams in the south-central part of the state) is full of caves...not only is it a favorite haunt of mushroom and huckleberry hunters, it's also well known to cave explorers.

This area was settled by dairy farmers in the 1880s, and dairy has been part of the area's history since then. Once the farmers found the caves (they're all over the place around there), they used them to store produce like potatoes and apples. Later, they used the caves to store butter and cheese made by the local cooperative creamery.

Fast forward to the 1930s and 40s. At the time, American scientists were spending a lot of time scheming about how to replicate the blue cheeses of France that were no longer being imported into the United States due to political turmoil and World Wars in Europe. Can you see where this is going? An enterprising man named Homer Spencer put two and two together. Spencer, working in conjunction with the USDA, had the bright idea to develop the caves of Klickitat County into something resembling those at Roquefort, France.

more + photos of the cheese caves ------>

Though Spencer's company, Guler Cheese Co., is long gone now, you can still see the remnants of this bit of Northwest cheesemaking history in Trout Lake, Washington. Down a long dirt road, still unpaved even in 2010, is the A-frame house that marks the site (photo at the top of this post). That's where the main operation used to be. Inside the house - which was built long after the cheese operation closed - are stairs that lead down into the cave, but today the house is boarded up and they're inaccessible. At least from the outside.

But, there is another entrance to the cave system, about 1/4 of a mile away down the road. Did I mention that it's called Cheese Cave Road?

DSC_0020

That's the cave entrance above - you can just see the ladder sticking up out of the top. I visited this site a couple of weeks ago but didn't have the gear (in particular, a big ol' light!) to go down in the cave. But I was able to hunt down some photos of the interior courtesy of photographer Carolyn Ganus, who has been inside.

Huge cavern of drips

As you can see, these caves are HUGE. This particular lava tube extends for almost 2000 feet. According to Carolyn it's a pretty easy walk from the opening over to the main cheese cave area (note: see the comments below for additional advice about exploring this cave from Carolyn).

The main cave is approximately 25 feet long by 35 feet high. Temperatures stay a pretty even 42-44 degrees fahrenheit thorughout the year. There you'll find the stairs leading up to the main house.

Cheese cave explorer

Old newspaper articles about Guler Cheese Co. show that the main staircase was originally made of wood - but you can imagine that it would probably have deteriorated over time in this enclosed humid environment.

The actual cheesemaking operation was in a nearby building on the property. Once the cheese was made, workers would have had to carry wheels of cheese down the stairs into the cave for aging. After about 6 months of aging (having been turned and brushed multiple times per week) the cheese would have been carried back out, packaged and sold. Would you have wanted to work in these cheese caves? I'm not sure I would have.

No more cheese

Above are some of the old, broken down racks once used to hold hundreds of wheels of blue cheese. They're just lying about in the cave today, faint reminders of what went before.

Guler Cheese Co. made blue cheese from the early 1940s through the mid-50s, first under the Guler Cheese label, then under the Black Rock Cheese label. At the time, a big selling point for the cheese was that these caves lie at approximately the same latitude as those at Roquefort, France. There was also the small matter of a messy divorce between Homer Spencer and his wife, the daughter of the owners of the property where these caves are. Now it's all just a bit of interesting local lore and cheesemaking history.

But the story does not end there...the history of cheesemaking in Trout Lake, Washington has recently been resurrected. John Schuman recently started Cascadia Creamery in Trout Lake and has been making cow's milk cheeses for most of the past year now. He's using Jersey cow's milk from several cows that he owns and pastures at a local dairy and is making some great aged raw milk cheeses....so stay tuned, I think you might be hearing more about cheese in Trout Lake in the future.

Beecher's New York Set to Open June 24, 2011

Beecher's to Open June 24 in New York CityAt last, the opening is immiment.....according to owner Kurt Dammeier, the New York outpost of Seattle's Beecher's Handmade Cheese will open its doors June 24, 2011. Enthusiasm has been slowly building - most recently, Eater NY announced the arrival of a giant stainless steel bulk tank and other cheesemaking equipment at the new facility. Like its Seattle outpost, the NYC store will make cheese in-house while-u-watch as well as sell cheese and other goodies. They've even got their own cheese in the works - Beecher's Flatiron cheese, a washed rind cheese aged on premises.

California's Marin French Cheese Co. Acquired by French Company

The Cheese FactoryMarin French Cheese Co. of Petaluma, California, the oldest cheese company in the United States, has been acquired by French cheese conglomerate Rians. Rians (click on the link to hear their cheery theme song) is the same company that purchased Laura Chenel's Sonoma County, California operation in 2006. Marin French has been operating for over 100 years in the San Francisco Bay area making mostly French style bloomy rinded cheeses. Starting in 1865 as Thompson Brothers Cheese Co., the company made its name selling a 'breakfast cheese' (which it still sells) in San Francisco. The company later reorganized into Marin French Cheese Co. Previous owner Jim Boyce, who purchased the company from the founding family in 1998, had apparently been searching for a buyer for several years. His untimely death from liver cancer late last year contributed to his family's search for a new owner that could preserve the company and its commitment to Marin County's land and dairy farmers.

This marks the second California cheese company to be acquired by a larger European company in less than a year - Cypress Grove Chevre of Humboldt, California was acquired by Emmi, a Swiss Company, in August of 2010. I think this is indicative of a number of things including the strength of the cheesemakers and cheese industry in California; I am also curious whether or not this is a trend that will continue. Which cheesemaker do you think will be next?

2011 United States Cheese Championships - Northwest Winners

And results are in for the 2011 United States Cheese Championships...held every other year (opposite the World Cheese Championships) in Wisconsin, this is a big deal to those in the cheese world because it's a chance to be judged by experts against your peers. In addition to the Northwest entrants, many familiar names took awards including Cypress Grove Chevre and Jasper Hill Farm, which won in the category of Smear Ripened Soft Cheeses (that's 'washed rind' to you and me) for its fantastic Winnimere. Congratulations to all of the winners!

To see the complete results, click here (then click through each category).

Monterey Jack

    Best of Class & 2nd Place - Tillamook (Boardman Plant)

Marbled Curd (Colby Jack)

    Best of Class & 2nd Place - Tillamook  (Boardman Plant)

Blue Veined/ Exterior Molding

    2nd Place - Rogue Creamery Flora Nelle

Pepper Flavored American Style Cheese (Cheddar, Colby, Jack)

    3rd Place - Tillamook  (Boardman Plant)

Hard Goat's Milk Cheeses

    3rd Place - Rivers Edge Chévre Astraea

Soft & Semi-Soft Mixed Milk Cheeses

    2nd Place - Rogue Creamery Echo Mountain Blue

 

*** Bonus: See the 2009 Northwest results here.

Washington State University Cheesemaking Classes For 2011

Washington State University CreameryWashington State University Creamery will be sponsoring several upcoming cheesemaking workshops. The first is a three day Basic Cheesemaking Short Course February 16-18th in Lynden, Washington. The three day course will cover issues ranging from milk and milk quality, cheesemaking and troubleshooting and regulatory issues involved in setting up a cheese plant of your own. Instructor Marc Bates, former head of the WSU Creamery in Pullman, will be leading the course; he is well known for his decades long involvement with the artisan cheese community in the region. The early registration rate for this workshop is $529. For more info see the full description here.

The second course, an Advanced Cheesemaking Shortcourse, will be held March 15-17th, 2011 at WSU Creamery in Pullman, Washington. This course is designed for experienced cheesemakers, supervisory, management, quality control and marketing personnel from commercial/industrial plants. Instruction is provided from leaders in the cheese industry community. This is an advanced class so it is recommended that you have some experience in cheesemaking or have attended a basic cheesemaking class as prerequisite. Cost for this workshop is $789 (early registration rate). For more info see the full description here.

On April 20-21st, 2011, WSU Creamery presents its Pasteurization Workshop. This course will cover vat and basic HTST systems. Additional discussions on magnetic flow timed systems and systems with auxiliary equipment are included. Hands-on activities are conducted in the WSU Creamery Facilities. Course is suggested for plant operators, maintenance personnel, quality personnel, management and suppliers to the industry. Register now to receive the early registration rate of $289. For more info see the full description here.

If you're interested in learning more about the ins and outs of how cheese is made - and especially if you have an idea that you'd like to start making and selling cheese - WSU is the place to go. I especially recommend the Basic Cheesemaking Short Course for beginners...more than just an average how-to, this course demonstrates the intricate complexities of the cheesemaking process. Many, many current professional artisan cheesemakers in the Pacific Northwest have taken a WSU courses at one point in their cheese careers.

----> For more information and/or to register for one or more workshops click here.

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

Oregon State University Receives Big Grant For Dairy & Cheese Development

Oregon State BeaversBig news in the world of Oregon dairy and cheese! Oregon State University announced yesterday that it has received an $860,000 grant to create a new dairy center and new professorship within the College of Agriculture. Paul Arbuthnot and wife Sandra donated the funds to create the Arbuthnot Dairy Center, designed to become a center for research and outreach for the benefit of small dairy processors. Paul Arbuthnot is the former president of Sunshine Dairy, one of the last remaining dairy plants still operating within the city of Portland. Professor Lisbeth Goddik of the OSU Food Science Department will hold the first professorship endowed by the grant. Goddik has been working for several years to resurrect the OSU Creamery, which closed in the 1960s. The new facility was licensed for cheese production earlier this year, and Goddik hopes to develop several OSU produced cheeses in 2011. Goddik said that the grant will, among other things, assist her in bringing in national and international experts to assist local cheesemakers, as well as develop new styles of cheese.

See the full news release here.

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.