“Pacific Northwest Cheese: A History”
By Tami Parr (Oregon State University Press, $22.95)
Quick Look: From 18th-century explorers carrying milk goats aboard their tallships to the Hudson’s Bay Company’s dairy at Fort Vancouver in the 1830s and pioneers milking cows along the Oregon Trail, the Pacific Northwest has a rich history of cheesemaking. Portland-based cheese writer and historian Tami Parr explores the roots of the region’s cheese production in her latest thoroughly researched, six-chapter, scholarly chronology.
What’s Inside: Fourteen boutique cheesemakers called Washington home a little more than 10 years ago. By 2012, that number had grown to 52. Today in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, there are more than 80 small-scale specialty producers in a regional artisan cheese renaissance.
Parr explores how we got here, taking cheese lovers back in time to the era before statehood, when Oregon Country was a fur-trading and farm-steading series of outposts, forts and missions. She discusses immigrants’ influences and contributions, mechanization and the move from farm to factory and mass production, and the creation of canned Cougar Gold at what was then Washington State College in Pullman. She talks about the creation of the Tillamook County Creamery Association; the long-defunct Cheney Creamery, the one-time largest cheese factory in Eastern Washington; and the back-to-the-land and counter-culture movements of the 1960s and 1970s, which drew some 1.8 million people from urban to rural areas across America between 1970 and 1974 alone.
“This project grew out of a love of cheese and a curiosity about the people, places and events that have shaped the regional cheese industry as it exists today,” Parr wrote. “Ultimately, I hope to have shed some light on the intriguing history of regional cheesemaking as it has evolved over nearly two hundred years.”
The 208-page volume includes a list of cheesemakers in each of the three Pacific Northwest states as well as sources, including author interviews and lots of old and current regional newspaper articles. Most chapters feature a notable vignette – The Cheese Heist of 1889, for example – broken out from the rest of the text. Appendix A offers “A Short History of Cheese in Alaska.”
What’s Not: There are no color photos; pictures – most of them vintage – are black and white. There are also no recipes. And, sadly, the book doesn’t come with cheese samples. (Luckily, Spokane isn’t far from a number of artisan cheesemakers, including Quillisascut Farmstead Cheese & School of Domestic Arts, Chattaroy Cheese Co., Wheyward Goat Cheese Co. and Heron Pond Farms.)