The Portland Celebrates Cheese Festival "The Wedge" was back this year on the streets just outside Green Dragon. At a requested $5 donation to benefit the non-profit Oregon Cheese Guild, the entrance to this tasting farmers market of 25 cheese and artisan producers of the Northwest, as well as being able to enjoy in the street "beer garden" music and beers from Green Dragon/Buckman Brewing is well worth it. In addition, Murray's Cheese from New York (now experimenting with mini-stores at three local Fred Meyers) was offering 3 Cheese Seminars. Unlike last year where from entering the festival it seemed like I was in a neverending line from booth to booth, this year the festival was more organized and spread out, so that I could easily skip and move booth to booth, with never more than a handful of people between me and cheese samples.
Since I love cheese so much, I was already pretty familiar with most of the cheese producers present as I am already a customer at the Farmers Market or the grocery store. It is still a great opportunity to sample cheeses from these vendors that you may have seen and wondered about, try samples from their offerings that are not available to try before you buy (for instance Fraga Farm Goat Cheese and Willamette Valley Cheese had all their cheeses available to sample this day) or try new cheeses they didn't know they produced. The vendors also are selling the cheeses so you can do your cheese market shopping at the same time! Next time I think I will be more prepared and bring a little cooler bag.
New to me was trying out the Cheese Plate PDX food cart, as they were offering tastes of their own homemade crackers along with their own fromage fort and fruit or Cavi-art Seaweed "Caviar". Meanwhile, although I have loved Tumalo Farms Pondhopper cheese as it is spiced with beer, I found a new crush on their nutty Classico. I also enjoyed the sweet burn of Ssmith's Hot Pepper Sensation "Merlot" spread. Definitely filing all these away for the future.
My favorite cheese vendors of the day were 1. Fern's Edge Goat Dairy who I believe offers the best local chevres, though they are only at a few select local retailers. Their Apricot–Honey Chèvre, Pear Anise Chèvre, Blueberry Ginger chevre, and my favorite of them all the Fig Walnut Sweet Chèvre with fig, walnut, honey, offer a lot of depth of flavor along with the creaminess of the goats milk cheese that is better than any flavored cream cheese ever. 2. Cypress Grove and their always dependable tasty cheeses, such as Midnight Moon, Humboldt Fog, Truffle Tremor, and a new dill goat cheese called PsycheDillic that uses dill pollen.
The seminars from Murray's cheese included including one for beer and cheese pairing, one to educate you on the cheeses of the NorthWest region, and how to complement your cheeses with honey, jams, nuts and fresh fruits to make a killer cheese plate experience. I went with the beer and cheese pairing one, which was a partnership of Murray's with Rogue.
I loved that they gave out a little packet of class notes that we could write on, and best of all, which included a section of different adjectives to describe cheese and tips about how salt reinforces bitter (so you want to put saltier cheeses with sweet), pairing the beverage and cheese so they have finishes of similar lengths. The "what grows together goes together" might be a bit more difficult beer wise as a theme, but would be great for wine and cheese pairing. The matches that we tried and discussed included
- Good Chit Pilner with Mt Townsend Creamery Cirrus
- Morimoto Soba Ale with River's Edge Chevre Siltcoos
- Ore-gasmic Ale with Rogue Creamery Hopyard Cheddar
- Chipotle Ale with Willamette Valley Brindisi
- Chocolate Stout with Tumalo Farms Pondhopper
- Hazelnut Brown Nectar with Rogue Creamery Smoky Blue
Rogue Ales also hosted a Grilled Cheese Bar station that offered 3 artisan cheeses for the ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue, Rogue Creamery & Rogue Ales collaboration of Rogue Hopyard Cheddar, and Portland Creamery's Oregon Chevre. Paired with a couple more beers from Green Dragon, it was a perfect finish.