Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Greener Pastures

In search of Greener Pastures, or, OR=Oregon.

When I returned from North Carolina I barely had time to unpack before Jim and I were on an Alaska Airlines flight to Portland. I was home on a Tuesday night and we were on a plane on Friday afternoon. Jim is motivated too!

We arrived in Portland, picked up our rental car and headed for downtown. We had a room at the Hilton Executive Towers courtesy of Priceline. While we were on the Morrison Bridge crossing Willamette River, we noticed a bunch of people lined up on both sides of the span. There was a midway/carnival set up along the river, but these folks were obviously waiting for something to happen. It was about 10:00pm. Hmmm. Jim and I tossed around ideas as to what these guys were doing on the bridge. Parade? Movie? Stargazing? Halfway across the bridge we received an answer. The sky suddenly erupted overhead and sounded like we were being bombed. Fireworks! It was the 100 anniversary of the Portland Rose Festival. We were directly under the fireworks. Lucky us. We tried to get away from the crowds as quickly as possible. We were tired and hungry. We followed the network of one way streets around to our hotel, dropped of the car, checked in and headed out again.

We took the advice of the hotel staff and walked up to a couple of late night restaurants. The bar at Higgins has a great reputation for good food. I ate there last year during the American Cheese Society conference. We walked in and walked out almost immediately. The bar was packed, noisy, and no one was ready to vacate any time soon. Plan B: South Park Seafood Grill. A great choice. They feature lots of local items on the menu like Northwest Oysters, local beef, pork, veggies, and a huge wine list. Jim had oysters and a roasted pork loin sandwich. I had the curried zucchini and carrot soup and the onion tart topped with a dollop of crème fraiche. Both were perfectly prepared. We ate quickly and walked the three blocks back to our hotel. We had a full day planned for Saturday.

We were up early and headed over to the Heathman Hotel for a filling breakfast before heading to the farmer's market at Portland State. At 8:45 we were at the Portland Farmers Market looking at a very crowded farmer's market set up amongst the trees on campus. I was focused on the cheese vendors, but there were a lot of really nice looking things for sale. Beautiful strawberries were on many tables, fresh peonies and other flowers, pastries, greens, countless varieties of veggies, pork, beef, and coffee. There are several bakeries selling magificent breads and treats. This is civilized! Some vendors had a line of 30 people waiting to pay. This is a very popular market. There were several cheese vendors. It is good to know what the competition/cheesemaking bretheren are doing. I need to see if there is room for what I want to do.

Jim and I walked around sampling everyone's products and buying something to take to Uncle Wayne and Aunt Linda's. Market analysis is a favorite part of my business plan! I love bringing my cheesemonger skills into play.
-There was an older couple from Washington who raise Nubians. They had some very goaty fresh cheeses and feta for sale. Pretty basic selection. Country Pride Farm.
-Down the aisle was the Willamette Valley Cheese Company. I got to visits their facility with an American Cheese Society tour group. They make goudas from cow's milk. They make their cheese in Polk County, between McMinnville and Salem. The family owns a herd of Jersey cows and make some pretty good goudas. I have no interest in making goudas, so I'm happy someone else nearby makes a tasty one.
-Rogue Creamery has a stand selling their blue cheese. They make some great ones and I really like the owners, David and Cary. They're very active in the American Cheese Society and approach their business with an eye towards sustainability. Echo Mountain is a goat/cow milk blue that is one of my favorite domestic blues.
-Another vendor, Oregon Gourmet Cheese makes soft, bloomy rinded cheese like camembert. Hmmm. The cheese I tried tasted bitter. Bitterness is a flaw in cheesemaking.

-We moved on to try cheese from Ancient Heritage. This was my favorite vendor. They have a herd of sheep and are making some beautiful cheese. Hannah Bridge, the hard, natural rind cheese is nice and nutty with a good finish. Valentine, the soft, bloomy rinded cheese is rich and creamy with buttery notes. We bought a piece of the hard cheese and continued around the market.
-Juniper Grove Farm, a goat dairy has a stand at the Portland State market, too. Their cheese tends to be quite strong and goaty. Not a favorite for me personally even though I love goat cheese. We tried their selection and bought a tub of fresh chevre. Note: when we tried the chevre, I noticed that it tasted smoky. Obviously, the fresh curds were in the same refrigerator with smoked cheese. Smoked cheese is so powerful, it can taint everything else around it. The cheese wasn't bad, I just couldn't get past the smoky flavor. Oh well. Plus, the salesgirl was having a bad day. She never cracked a smile.
-We wrapped up our market research at Fraga Farm. They're an organic goat dairy. Nice fresh chevres and good feta. The enthusiastic cheesemaker's apprentice really helped sell the cheese.

The competition looks good, but I am happy to say that I like the cheese produced at Goat Lady Dairy, Ticklemore and Cowgirl Creamery better than anything I tried at the market. If I can make anything comparable to my mentors, I'd be thrilled. There is room for me here.

We spent part of the afternoon at a dairy goat show in Canby, at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. Woo hoo! Our friends Chris and Elaine drove down to hang out with us and look at goats. We had fun. I met a couple of nice folks and tried to get a feel for who might have milk to sell. I also got to see some beautiful Oberhalsi does. A breed that looks like a deer. Hmmm. Maybe two or three goats would be nice to have around the house.

The rest of the trip was spent in Yamhill County. Jim's Uncle Wayne and his wife Linda live in McMinnville. They're amazing hosts and love showing us around the area. Wayne and Linda seem to know everyone in town. We enjoy spending time with them and sharing our thoughts and plans for the future. They're eager to see us settle nearby and have been so supportive.

We looked at farms all over Yamhill County. We saw some dumps and some amazing places. Nothing felt like "THIS IS IT!" We will continue to look around.

Our next trip to Oregon is this weekend. We're driving around some more and talking to the planning department. I want to make sure I can do what I want to do where I want to do it.

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