My experiences with Mt. Townsend cheeses have always been happy ones from Seastack with the visual drama of a layer of ash under the white bloomy rind and the slightly runny layer under the ash before you dig into the creamy center that has just the slightest crumble. The Trailhead, a wonderful chewy tomme that due to space at the creamery is on a bit of a vacation. Cirrus, a buttery little darling that is perfect on a cheese board or split with someone special as a dessert with a fabulous fruit spread. Your Market Cheese Shop will have the Cirrus on our Savories ad from March 22nd to April 4th so pick up one for Easter brunch! I could go on and on, actually I will later about the cheese but first let’s talk about the people behind the cheese and what they mean to our glorious corner of the world.
Owners Matt Day and Ryan Trail started with the mission over seven years ago to reinvigorate the local dairy industry and have succeeded in building something special that is evolving into a destination. Along with a small dedicated crew in Port Townsend, Washington Mt. Townsend is sourcing their milk locally from multigenerational dairy families to create an array of cheeses that have been winning awards since 2008. They have a vision and a plan for the future that will continue to honor the region and show all of their fans and followers how a dream becomes a reality.
I set out on a sunny Saturday in early February to head to the scenic North Olympic Peninsula to tour the Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend, WA. In typical northwestern style the weather had gone from sunny in Portland to misty and subdued as I traveled the lovely scenic roads to Port Townsend. I love the way the mist hangs in the majestic evergreen trees of the northwest, it makes everything surreal and dreamy. As I arrived in Port Townsend I was charmed by how quaint the town was perched above the bay.
The creamery was easy to find, I easily pulled up in front of the fifty year old warehouse that has been retrofitted to house a modern cheese making facility and tasting room. My timing was good; co-owner Matt Day had just pulled into the lot next to the creamery to lead me on my tour. After a quick greeting in the parking lot, he pointed out the large whey vat outside the building that held the whey drained out of the make room after the cheese has been made. The whey is held in the tank until it is sent off to be food for some very lucky local pigs.
Matt then led me inside the front door to the tasting room. On the counter where samples of several Mt. Townsend cheeses ready to be enjoyed by visitors. Lauren Crowley, the Mt. Townsend Cheese Ambassador was behind the counter ready to answer any questions that customers could have. A tall cooler to the side of the room chilled local beer, wine, cured meats and fish as well as all the Mt. Townsend cheeses which range from their mild Jack style New Moon which in 2012 won first in its class at the American Cheese Society and Campfire which is the New Moon smoked with alder and apple wood. Also the bloomy rinds like Cirrus and Seastack and then the rustic washed rind Off Kilter that began as their Red Alder and had several washings of Pike Brewing Company’s Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale. My new favorite the creamy Fromage Blanc which is moist, milky and as Matt says “is really good with ginger snaps late at night”, also available with rich black truffle, can you say “wow”? For devoted locals or day tripping visitors the tasting room had all the tasty goodies to give you a culinary tour of the area.
As we walked past the counter of the tasting room toward the large windows that separate the tasting room from the make room Matt talked to me about their daily operations. Early in the morning the milk arrives to be pumped into the creamery and into the 310 gallon pasteurizer to become cheese. We took a quick detour into the packaging room where all the cheeses are wrapped and labeled by hand. Matt described the evolution of the building, how they had cleared out rooms that had been used for storage and were filled to the rafters with remnants of various businesses that had formerly called the building home and organized the available space to function for a modern cheese production and storage facility.
We donned plastic booties over our shoes and hairnets before entering the make room and aging rooms. While the cheese making was long over for the day, but Dylan Stanfield the Head Cheesemaker was still there cleaning, organizing and updating records. Matt talked about the equipment upgrades that they had been able to make over the years and how when they first started making cheese they had a bucket system for the milk that was setting with curd and how there was a layout around the make room that they had memorized on which bucket to work with at a time. Dylan, who formerly worked at Beecher’s in Seattle laughed at the idea of working the curd that way, he’d been lucky enough to come on board after the buckets were a thing of the past!
We continued into the aging rooms, one for the bloomy cheeses that had Seastack wheels that were dusted in black ash that hadn’t developed their snowy white rinds yet. Racks of young Cirrus lined the other side of the room some with the rinds in various stages of fuzziness. The next room had very young Off Kilter a new size format of the Red Alder, as well as some experimental cheeses that I might be able to taste in the near future!
Matt talked to me about the different equipment in the rooms in the back area of the creamery and how the size of the creamery has influenced decisions about which cheeses get focused on for production. Their Trailhead is a cheese that because of the larger size and how much room it takes up in the compact aging rooms is not available until Mt. Townsend finds more space. The team at Mt. Townsend has a vision for growing in a location down the road that will give them the room they need to bring the Trailhead back along with other inspired plans! Nik Lance who came on as a partner in 2011 stopped in the make room to give an update about some equipment and also expressed his excitement at the plan to move into a bigger facility. He was soon off to prepare for an event that evening with one of Port Townsend’s local organizations.
I finished my visit happily snacking on cheese in the tasting room visiting with the Matt and Lauren. The visit had made me feel inspired and Matt sent me off into the afternoon with some cheese and an invitation to come back anytime. If you find yourself in the misty majesty of the Peninsula near Port Townsend, take some time to visit the creamery and see how a committed vision can create some truly tasty cheese! You can also visit the tasting room at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle and online at www.mttownsendcreamery.com to see all the cheeses available and other great info about events and farmer’s markets.
From pasture to pasteurization, cheese making requires dedication, skill and passion. Considered a science and an art, it’s something Kala Nyx finds both beautiful and endearing. “I work with amazing products from all over the world – It’s pretty romantic, really,” says the Cheese Merchandiser. Kala learns about many types of cheeses, how they’re made and their history. And there are many emotional connections created in the process, she says.