Thursday, November 30, 2006

It Rains in Oregon

Sure, we all know it rains in Oregon. It's in the Pacific Northwest, for crying out loud. All that rain keeps the rivers running and the trees growing. They have a lot of evergreens, too. Most of California's Christmas trees are grown in Oregon. Jim and I spent a long (and wet) weekend in Oregon recently. We drove past plenty of Christmas tree plantations.

Why Oregon? It is a damn fine place to visit, we have friends there, and Jim has family there, too. Oregon is also high on our list of places to establish a cheese business. It is easier to afford a nice house with some land not too far away from a major metropolitan city. We like the country life, but we don't want to give up EVERYTHING that we like about the big city. Like sushi or Thai food. It is the beaver state!

Jim and I took an exploratory trip to McMinnville, in Yamhill County. We stayed with his uncle Wayne and his wife Linda. McMinnville is about 75 minutes south of Portland on US99. The past few years it has become a hotbed for Oregon wines, along with its neighbor, Carlton. Not a bad thing if you want to sell some cheese, too. We managed to find our way from the Portland Airport to the Harris House with ease. Lunch was waiting and we spent it catching up with Wayne and Linda. We didn't waste anymore time and jumped in Wayne's car and drove off to explore the countryside. We drove around lots of wooded hills and twisty roads. There's a lot to see around McMinnville, so we took our time and took in the countryside.

Yamhill County is farmland. We saw orchards full of hazelnuts, walnuts, and Christmas trees. It was near harvest time so all of the Christmas trees looked like perfect pyramids, ready to harvest and decorate living rooms all over the West Coast. There is also a booming wine industry in the area, so lots of acres are now covered in vines. But it is not a monoculture. There are still plenty of farmers earning a living growing blueberries and grass seed. All of this is about 1 1/2 hours outside of Portland. There are also dairy cows grazing in health pastures. A nice thing to see if I want to make cheese from these contented cows. Now if there are some goat dairies or sheep dairies, I'll be set!

We spent a very pleasant evening at an amazing restaurant in Dayton, Oregon. The Joel Palmer House is run by a husband and wife team, Jack and Heidi Czarnecki. He's not only the chef, he's an avid mushroom forager, too. The fruit of his labors are the focal point of the menu at the Joel Palmer House. Almost every dish features mushrooms in some form or another. The cream of matsutaki mushroom soup was rich and creamy and delicious. The three mushroom tart was outstanding. The chanterelles in a cream sause were cooked to perfection. The "faux gras" was so rich I could barely eat my main course. Our main courses were just as well executed. I had the filet mignon with the porcini sauce. It was the most tender steak I have ever eaten. I could cut it with a spoon. I can't wait to go back and indulge again. Go Jack and Heidi! Jack came out to say hello, as he's Wayne and Linda's friend. Wayne told him why we were in the area and Jack was very happy to hear that I'd want to make cheese in Oregon. He offered several suggestions and was very supportive in general. I'd love to have a cheese featured on his menu. It would be a great honor. He's an amazing chef with a lot of passion behind his menu.

The rest of the weekend we saw many small towns, from Vernonia to Sheridan. That's covers about 100 miles. I think Jim and I were most impressed with the surroundings outside of McMinnville. The rain didn't deter us and it rained a lot that weekend. We'll be back up there soon, I think.

Yippee kai yai yo!

In case you might be wondering, I still work the counter at Cowgirl when I'm needed. This seems to work well for everyone. For me, I can have Saturdays free to spend with my sweetie. For Cowgirl, they have someone they can call upon when they need an extra set of hands and don't need to worry. I worked last Saturday, selling cheese to lots of tourists visiting San Francisco for Thanksgiving. I enjoy the public interaction. If someone wants to try a cheese, I'm happy to let 'em have a taste, and if I haven't tried it in a while, I'll take a taste, too! It is fun to compare tastes with my customers. Usually we both wind up saying "Yum!" and I'll go and cut a wedge of cheese for them on the old Handee cheese cutter.

Lately I've been tasting a lot of cheese. It is like saying hello to old friends. I'll take a tiny taste and the memory of the cheese comes rushing back. Since cheese tastes different from wheel to wheel, I'll have a good idea how this particular cheese adds up. Lately the Midnight Moon (goat milk gouda) has been delightful. It is extra-aged and extra tasty. The Comté Montagne has been off the scale in terms of its flavor. The Abbaye de Belloc has been really rich and nutty, too. Red Hawk has been particularly fragrant and soft. Other favorites lately: Hillman Farm's Harvest Goat, Vermont Shepherd, and French Raclette.

Life is good so long as I can keep working with cheese.