Sunday, March 2, 2014

Steve Jones' Cheese Bar (Portland, Oregon)

All the locals are represented in this case - Rivers Edge, Tumalo Farms, Pholia, Juniper Grove, Oregon cheesemakers I hadn't ever heard of and Rogue Creamery that everyone's heard of, Black Sheep Creamery and Beecher's from Washington. Then there are the cheeses from places I'd like to be a local in for a while, with imports from Italy and France, Germany and England. I tasted some Stichelton from Neal's Yard Dairy - soft and buttery with the gentlest possible bite of blue. Steve Jones, the owner and winner of the 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational, did an internship at the Neal's Yard shop in London and still keeps in touch with them; in fact he got the first commercial wheel of Stichelton in the United States.

I went to the Cheese Bar several times after it first opened up in the Belmont district, and before I stopped eating cheese. I took along my gluten-free bread to get sandwiches from their ever-changing menu, and sampled the charcuterie, which also draws from the new Oregon and US-based artisanal producers, as well as their European inspirations. Steve was here in France last year for Le Mondial du Fromage et des Produits Laitiers but I just missed it; I got back from my travels with Mom and John an hour after the last vendor had packed up, and long after the contestants in the "world's best cheesemonger" competition had left.

There are more and more places in France (particularly Paris) that not only sell cheese, but also sell tasting plates or have other sit-down options. One of the cheese shops in Paris I visited last year, Fromagerie Hisada, has an entire floor above the store for the restaurant space. Another place that opened up last year, La Vache dans les Vignes, focuses on dégustations that pair cheeses with wines.

Alas, not for me. In fact, the draft of this post has been sitting unfinished since late 2011, which is when I first attempted two things: becoming an all-cheese-all-the-time blogger and author (didn't work), and testing whether I needed to give up dairy (which worked all too well, unfortunately). But if you're in Portland, or visiting, I encourage you to take advantage of the wide range of local and imported cheeses at the Cheese Bar, and if they're still offering "raclette nights" then you don't want to miss that specialty of the Alps, where the rich hot liquid cheese is scraped off the large aged wheel as it melts under the grill, onto plates of boiled potatoes and ham, served with pickles. And they make (or made) their own pickles at the Cheese Bar, and they're quite good.

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