On Saturday afternoon we headed out to the 6th Annual Seattle Cheese festival with empty bellies, and no caffeine to wake up our fuzzy, sleepy brains. First stop, La Panier for some black liquid beauty. I refrained from buying anything to eat, due to future cheese indulging. This is more difficult than you think. The place smells of butter, coffee, and chocolate. Three smells that your brains hears as “eat something”. We headed out into the sun for free cheese and education.

“Free” means I cannot possibly get enough of whatever food/movie/music/speaker that will be in front of me, right?  Wrong. As wrong as paisley and plaid, mayo with salami, flip-flops in cold weather, putting a sock on a cat’s head, or watching Fox “news”. I wanted to head out early, but well, a cat, snuggled in the middle, NPR, and a fiancée that fits just right no matter how you are laying, are like a book so good that it makes you want to read until the chapter ends even though you have read 10 pages since you should have gone to sleep, but now are probably retaining 3/4 of what you would if you were alert, but can’t stop in the middle of a chapter, or you realize if you don’t get up now, you won’t get up for hours, and you will miss the cheese. I didn’t miss the cheese.

I would like to start off by thanking the weather. It compromised like a cheating spouse in a divorce settlement. It knew it had been cold, distant, unpredictable. A tease. Then it realized  we put it through figurative law school and it should give us the house.

The cheese house.

It was chaotic, but reserved. There was no pushing or elbowing, just a little line confusion. The booths were in a straight row, so it made sense to form one line and go to each stand. We waited, and waited. The line didn’t move. There was no line. I didn’t want to be a cheese bully, but nothing was happening.  Surprised at how many people were being polite and getting in line, we soon left it to find out what was going on. We skipped the first booth, which I dubbed the confusion booth, the place where people were trying to figure out if there was a line or not, and found a rhythm. It was pretty much smooth sailing from there. Polite and all-things-dairy happy, we came, we saw, and the cheese festival conquered. I never thought I would fill up on those tiny toothpicks of cheese, but we both did. Last year they served around 400,000 toothpicks. Now I understand that is a completely feasible number. I was only truly disappointed in a few. I heard about the Washington State University student-made cheese, and the only thing that stood out was the “student”. I was disappointed, but only because I wanted it to be good and it wasn’t. I grew up with the Penn State dairy www.das.psu.edu/about/history, where Ben and Jerry took a $5 ice cream correspondence course, and then made Chubby Hubby a household name. It was going to take something special to compete with other college dairies I have had. Whenever a family member or friend attended Penn State, they were required to fill a cooler in their trunk with ice cream when coming home for a visit. Flavor orders were taken, and no one ever came home without it, or their would be more disappointment than the 1951 Dodgers.  Highlights of the festival were Coach Farm (New York) – goat cheese and yogurt, Amaltheia Organic Dairy (Oregon), chevre, ricotta, and goat feta, Yancy’s (New York), Mt. Townsend Creamery (Port Townsend), DPI Specialty Foods, Estrella Family Creamery (Washington), Black Sheep Creamery (Washington), and Cypress Grove Chevre (California). I ended up buying smoked Gouda with bacon from Yancey’s, which tasted like cheese mixed with summer sausage: not greasy or bacony, so good, and cream cheese with garlic and herb from Sierra Nevada, which you can eat with a spoon, no cracker required.

Portobello Dumplings with Goat Cheese Sauce

Dumplings

Ingredients

  • 3 large Portobello mushroom caps
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed (or adjust amount to taste)
  • 5 scallions, sliced thin
  • 3 ounces fresh chevre
  • 24 won ton skins
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Mix together vinegar, oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Remove stems from mushrooms and marinate in the oil mixture for about minutes.

Grill over coals or on a grill pan for about 4 minutes on each side. Dice mushrooms and mix with the cheese and the onions.

Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of each won ton skin and wet edges with water. Fold into a triangle and wet tip of long ends to seal together forming a dumpling.

Steam for 5 minutes. Sauté one side in butter to brown.

Goat Cheese Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 shallot
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup cream
  • 3 ounces fresh chevre

Directions

Sauté shallots in butter just until they’re limp. Add wine and reduce until thick and syrupy. Add cream and reduce slightly. Add cheese and stir until smooth. Serve immediately.

from Cypress Grove Chevre

Cow's milk, made in the tradition of a French "Morbier", with a decorative charcoal line separating the evening and morning curd. Named after an extra special animal on the farm with a name that means “handsome”- Guapo.

Black Creek Buttery-Our cheddar recipe, big wheels either natural rind or cloth wrapped. Real old world style cheddar with faint lines discernable between the curd millings. Jalapeño Buttery- "Buttery" recipe, cow's milk cheese full of hand sliced fresh jalapenos, a big EFC favorite.

Sierra Nevada Cheese, one of the highlights of the festival.

This is one of two places I bought cheese. Not only was it one of the best, but they also made it affordable for the festival.

At this point we were getting full, and thirsty so we headed to the wine tent.

Bergevin Lane Cabernet Sauvignon- Washington, $24.99, Layers of dark fruit with hints of chocolate and spice. A powerful but elegant red wine.

Kris Pinot Noir, Winebow - Italy- $13.99 - Ruby red with aromas of blackberry and red forest fruits. Elegant and subtle. Falesco Vitiano Bianco-$10.99, A wide range of fruit and spice, including blackberry jam, licorice, and tobacco leaf. Full-bodied with a smooth finish.

La Gitana Manzanilla, Classical Wines, Spain - $16.99 - The lightest and rarest of true sherries. A wine that does a delicate dance across the tongue finishing ever so lightly.

Bethal Heights Pinot Noir, Oregon - $30.99 - Ripe aromas of raspberry, plum, and black cherry are nicely complememted by oak spice, cola, minerality. Graceful and age worthy.

Reininger Winery Helix Syrah, Washington- $19.99 - A big rich, red. Warm red berries and plum, with a hint of pepper.

We ended the festival by picking up some meat for the barbecue on Sunday at Bavarian Meats.  A great day, and a festival worth being in a crowd for. There were also chef, and cheese making demos going on that we didn’t get to, but I don’t know how you could do both in one day if you really want to enjoy yourself. Next year maybe I’ll go both days, and split up the tastings, and demos. For complete information about the festival, the recipe for the winning grilled cheese sandwich, and the participants visit http://www.seattlecheesefestival.com/.

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