Washington has a large dairy industry, turning out lots of milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and similar products. Only a small percentage of that output becomes handcrafted artisanal cheeses, but it’s worth seeking out. You'll find many craft cheesemakers around the state, but one of the most recognizable is Beecher's Handmade Cheese, located in the Pike Place Market. Its cheeses are handmade on-site in full view of passing shoppers, providing a fascinating insight into the process. Here are a few of their best!
Beecher's Flagship Cheddar
There's a difference between ordinary cheddar and Beecher's distinctive Flagship Cheddar, and it's obvious from the first bite. Beecher's has the tang you'd expect from any top-quality cheddar, but it's also full of delicately nutty and earthy tones, created deliberately by the cheesemakers through the bacterial cultures that ripen the cheese. Flagship ripens and matures over a period of 15 months – or sometimes even longer – until each individual block reaches its full flavor. This is cheddar that stands on its own in any company, as part of a cheese plate or as a high-impact ingredient in one of your favorite recipes.
Beecher's Smoked Flagship
When you start with a truly superior cheese, there are only a few ways to improve. One of those is with wood smoke, which adds layers of savory flavor and complexity to an already memorable cheddar. It's cold-smoked over a mixture of apple and cherry wood, both readily available in orchard-rich Washington, to bring a distinct but not overwhelming hardwood flavor to the nutty, cheddary tang of the cheese. Smoked Flagship is a winner when sliced thinly into sandwiches, or to add a smoky note to any recipe that calls for cheesy goodness.
Beecher's 4-Year Aged Flagship
A more traditional way to improve an already-delicious cheese is through additional aging, The bacterial cultures that give the cheese its characteristic flavor have more time to develop, transforming the milk's proteins and sugars into ever greater flavor compounds. The 4-Year Aged Flagship is drier than its younger counterpart, and it crumbles beautifully over salads and omelets. After dinner, treat it as a bold companion to the lush sweetness of perfectly ripened pears or the more concentrated sugars of dried fruits.
Beecher's Cheese Curds
On the very first day of the journey from milk to finished cheese, the whey is separated out to leave behind lumpy curds, which resemble packing foam or popcorn in appearance. Most of the curds are pressed and shaped into large slabs that will become Flagship and other cheeses, but some are sold as-is to eager aficionados. These newly-made curds have a fresh, milky flavor and squeak when you chew them. You can eat Beecher's plain or herb-flavored curds by the handful out of the bag as a high-protein snack, or scatter them over soups, salads and egg dishes as a garnish. They can be also be fried, with or without breading, or – for a trip across the Canadian border – scattered across French fries and doused in gravy to make poutine.