Who Needs Cows?
Portland’s only urban creamery churns out award-winning cheese – with nary a cow in sight.
BY MATTIE JOHN BAMMAN
PHOTO BY NOLAN CALISCH
Walking down the sidewalk in inner southeast Portland, you may glance through a window and suddenly find yourself face to face with men and women in hairnets, white aprons, and rubber boots wielding hundreds of pounds of freshly made cheese. Without a cow in sight, Ancient Heritage Dairy opened Portland’s only urban creamery in spring 2015, but if you speak with the Obringer family who owns the creamery, they’ll say they’re just carrying on tradition.
Paul Obringer founded Ancient Heritage Dairy in Madras, near Bend, in 2006, and today, his son Hank leads the company. The Obringers had raised sheep and cows for the better part of a decade, and Hank says they stopped raising livestock to focus on making the best cheese possible.
In so doing, they chose a special location for their dairy: the Weatherly Building, which dates to the 1920s. Around this time, Steigerwald Dairy Company, Mt. Hood Cream Company, and other dairies operated in Portland’s eastside, with an estimated 50 dairies operating in Portland in the 1930s. The building was owned by Portland businessman George Warren Weatherly. Weatherly was Portland’s ice cream tycoon, locally credited with inventing the ice cream cone, and the Weatherly Building was home to one of his ice cream shops.
Today, in this historic space, Ancient Heritage Dairy has delicious neighbors: the critically acclaimed Italian restaurant Renata and the chocolate maker Alma Chocolate. Renata serves Ancient Heritage cheeses, and you can buy Ancient Heritage cheeses inside the Alma shop.
Ancient Heritage Dairy currently focuses on five cheeses, and it has a niche in the Pacific Northwest cheese market, making bloomy and washed-rind cheeses – two styles still rare in the United States. Adelle is a cakey, melt-in-your-mouth, bloomy rind cheese made with cow’s and sheep’s milk (imagine a sort of hybrid of chevre and brie). Valentine is a 100 percent sheep’s milk bloomy rind; it won first place in its category at the esteemed 2013 American Cheese Society awards.
Washed-rind cheeses, on the other hand, are often stinky cheeses, in part thanks to the extra moisture and specific strains of mold involved in the production process. True stinky-cheese lovers should sample the Isabella, a gooey-soft cheese with yeasty notes, while those looking for a milder cheese — more Sly & The Family Stone than Funkadelic — should try Willow Creek. It’s a rich and nutty rawcow’s and sheep’s milk cheese — its rind washed in red wine.
Ancient Heritage Dairy’s flagship cheese is Hannah, a natural-rind raw cow’s and sheep’s milk cheese perfect for aging, developing crunchy protein crystals in the process. Most Hannah ages six months, but limited quantities of special 12- and 18-month-aged Hannah are also made.
You may soon find more options at the dairy. “We are playing with developing several different styles of cheese, including Gouda, brie, and feta,” says Hank. He’s also selling his cheeses to new markets, beginning with the San Francisco Bay Area. But lucky Portlanders need simply to walk by their only urban creamery to pick it up fresh from the source — or visit a local cheese shop.
MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH ANCIENT HERITAGE DAIRY’S HANNAH CHEESE
Servings: 6 | Cooking Time: 50 minutes
6 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 shallots, diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 1/2 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups grated Hannah
salt and black pepper to taste
In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale-golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, chives, butter, and Hannah cheese.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.