Tucked away in north-central Washington lies a town called Omak. Omak is fortunate to have a micro-creamery in its midst known as Pine Stump Farms. It is a small, family operation in which the creamery is one functioning part of a sustainable whole. Besides cows, chickens, dogs, and horses, Pine Stump raises goats that produce delicious, high quality milk for the farm’s cheesemaker, Carey Hunter. She creates superb, small batch fromage, and I recently got my hands on some. Carey has a varied selection of cheeses, and I mean to try them all; this time I chose her Asiago, Feta, Farmhouse Cheese, and Black Ash.
The Asiago has a blondish hue that makes it less obvious that it is a goat’s milk cheese—most goat’s milk cheeses are alabaster in appearance. The aroma is nutty and earthen, and the flavor is warm and comforting, like warmed milk. I think this cheese would be outstanding coupled with a bone-dry, mineral-forward, acidic Chenin Blanc.
The Feta is unlike any other feta that I have tried. It is not in brine, which gives it a more aged, rustic appearance. The texture is rather open, and the paste on the inside maintains a higher moisture than the outside. Since there is good salinity to this cheese, I recommend serving it on a plate with a dessert wine, like an Australian Sticky. The salty/sweet juxtaposition is certain to please.
The Farmhouse cheese is an adorable, washed rind disc. Since there is a skosh of (benign) fuzzy mucor on the surface, I surmise the washings are minimal. On the nose, I glean sour cream and dusty hazelnuts. The flavor profile is quite round with up front notes of citrus and cream. The paté is rich and coating, leaving one with a tart, breathy finish. Organoleptically, this one gets an A.
Black Ash is a small, soft-ripened, ash-dusted stunner with a layer of ash in the center. This cheese smells of mineral. Not hay or forest floor or goat. Mineral. I have never been taken aback by a softie’s minerality before, but here we are. This cheese is full, yogurty, unctuous, and clean. It has a distinct minerality in the mouthfeel to boot. Black Ash will be participating in my next cheese and wine tasting—it is too extraordinary to pass up kicking around ambrosial phenolics.
My favorite cheeses that I tasted from Pine Stump Farms are the softies. These small-batch, artisanal cheeses have astoundingly unique flavor profiles and aromatic nuances. They are an honest representation of terroir—I now feel I have a better understanding of Omak’s topography.
The best part about this selection of cheese, moreover, is how clean they all taste. Sometimes cheese can taste of farmyard, feed, or plain animally. Then there is the malady that exists in goat cheese known as “bucky”. Bucky cheese smells and tastes of just that—caprine buck. This occurs when the does (female goats) are milked in proximity of the bucks. It provokes the males to express their pheromones which get into the milk. This makes said milk/cheese notably animalesque. It is considered a defect by U.S. standards, and in my opinion, it shows a lack of attention to detail. Pine Stump Farms’ fromage, however, is neither bucky, farmy, or anything that one might find aversive. Rather, Hunter’s cheese is palatally satisfying, aromatically interesting, and made with care.
As a shameless turophile, I am constantly on the look-out for cheese that is not readily available. Being a micro-creamery so far out of Seattle’s vicinity, Pine Stump Farms sells their products locally, particularly at farmer’s markets. Therefore, dispersed Washingtonians are not as apt to get their taste buds on Carey’s cheeses. Fortunately, there is a solution! During the colder months, Pine Stump Farms has a cheese club in which a paying individual can get a monthly selection of hand-made fromage mailed directly to her/his home. You can sign up and get the details directly on their website: pinestumpfarms.com. In a year full of toil, a little palatal titillation is merited. So what are you waiting for?