The Art of America's Cheese-Makers

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Photo by Daphne Zepos

The Seattle Cheese Festival took place in the heart of Seattle this past weekend. White tents sprung up on the cobblestone street in front of Pike Place Market alongside a staggering display of tulips in season, and a wide variety of local and imported cheeses attracted crowds all weekend.

Seagulls swooped and squawked overhead the 100-year old West Coast market with its immense displays of fish and crabs, and street performers peppered the market with their tunes and tricks.

The yearly festival was organized by De Laurenti, the venerable food and wine store and included tastings, demos, and cheese classes. On the street, the crowds stood patiently in line to sample and buy cheese, ooh-ing and aah-ing over Piccante Gorgonzola, or sharp Tillamook, or floral Purple Haze along with hundreds of other cheeses.

I elbowed my way to the stands of the local Washington cheese makers, and found some true gems. The Estrella Family creamery is blessed with an inspired and versatile cheese maker, mom Kelli Estrella. Every year at the festival I sample her ever-improving creations. This year her beer-washed Brewleggio was satin-textured and nicely potent. Her pyramid of aged goat cheeses was stunning: why, I wonder, do we ship little goat cheeses from the other end of the world when we have such treasures right here on our doorstep?

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Willapa Hills' Little Boy Blue, short and stout like a teapot, is a natural-rinded blue that melts beautifully on the tongue and was creamy and mild. And Willapa White, a very fresh sheep cheese still beading with whey was sweet, reflecting the high quality of the sheep milk. Just the thing for a balmy and festive spring day.

You can find a selection of cheeses from both farms in local shops, including De Laurenti and The Cheese Cellar in Seattle, Metropolitan Markets in and around Seattle, as well as Steve's Cheese in Portland, OR.