Artisanal cheese has exploded in the past 15 years, with American farmstead and specialty cheeses claiming their space alongside the cheeses from Europe. Washington State native Kurt Dammeier was so inspired by his state's bounty that he opened his own artisan cheese company in 2002. Beecher's Handmade Cheese, located in Seattle's famed Pike Place Market, makes six varieties of cheese using milk from a local dairy. Full disclosure: I met Kurt when he asked me to help him with his cookbook, Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh, All-American Recipes from the Pacific Northwest.
Kurt's mantra is pure food - food without additives, preservatives, and anything artificial. Even the milk used to make the cheese comes from cows that are free of growth hormones. And that's what I respect about him--he stays true to his beliefs and still puts out fantastic food. The absolutely sublime mac n' cheese is not to be missed (order it online or look for it in select retailers). Besides spreading the gospel of pure flavor, Kurt stays busy with Bennett's restaurant, Pasta & Co., and Maximus Minimus, a food truck devoted to pulled pork.
I had a chat with Kurt about cheese and asked him to part with a simple recipe that would work for a summer evening.
Q: What is your favorite cheese (other than your own)?
A: Red Hawk [a triple-crème cow's milk cheese with a brine washed rind made by Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes, California].
Q: What is the biggest mistake people make when they cook with cheese?
A: They cook it too hot and it breaks or they are not adventurous enough and only use boring cheese. Almost every cheese has an application in cooking. The average American and people who are pretty good cooks are under-utilizing cheese not in quantity but in breadth and variation.
Q: What are your two favorite ingredients to cook with?
A: Roasted onions and salt.
Q: What is the one processed food people should remove from their kitchen?
A: White sugar.
For a taste of Kurt's fresh approach to cooking - and his award-winning Flagship cheese - try this herb and cheese salad dressing; I love it
over fresh Romaine lettuce and a tomato wedge. (You can find Beecher's cheeses in select gourmet markets or order direct from the website; I've sent many a thank-you and hostess gift from Beecher's!)
Truly Green Goddess Dressing
- 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh dill
- 1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
- 2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh chives
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 teaspoons Tabasco
- 7 ounces Flagship cheese, shredded
- Chop the dill, parsley, cilantro, and chives. Add the herbs
and mayonnaise to a food processor or blender and blend until the herbs are
finely chopped and the mixture is well combined.
- With the motor still running, slowly pour in the buttermilk and add the vinegar, salt, pepper, and Tabasco.
- Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the cheese.Blend until the cheese is fully combined into the mixture. Serve or store in a refrigerator for up to two weeks. Makes 3 cups
Cheese photo courtesy Beecher's Handmade Cheese