Good cheer, cheese reign at Monteillet Fromagerie

Good cheer, cheese reign at Monteillet Fromagerie

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By Sara Perry, sara@saraperry.com
Special to The Oregonian
Published October 25, 2008

phtoto: Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet by Pete Perry, Special to The Oregonian

photo by Pete Perry, Special to The Oregonian

Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet by Pete Perry, Special to The Oregonian[/caption]

It was a trip we couldn’t pass up. Those sunny, late September days meant the chance for one last journey on the back of my husband Pete’s BMW 1100-GS motorcycle before the autumn rains.

Pierre-Louis Monteillet, a familiar face at the Portland Farmers Market, and his wife, Joan, produce artisan cheeses at Monteillet Fromagerie, their sustainable farmstead in Dayton, Wash.

We knew exactly where we wanted to go. First, we would travel to Dayton, Wash., home of Monteillet Fromagerie, and then on to Joseph, a remote yet vibrant small town in the northeastern part of Oregon that is near Wallowa Lake, Hells Canyon and the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Over the next several weeks, I’ll share with you some of the interesting people and places we discovered along the way.

As lovely as the cheeses are, it is equally enjoyable listening to Pierre-Louis describe his sustainable farmstead and the life he shares with his wife, Joan, and the interns who work alongside the couple learning the fine skill of cheesemaking. After returning home from the market early in the summer, I looked up his facility’s Web site and knew I wanted to visit the place.

From his Web site (monteilletcheese.com), I learned that along with the spotless cheesemaking building, quaint tasting room and menagerie of free-range chickens, goats, sheep, pigs and the six white Great Pyrenees dogs that guard and live alongside the dairy flocks, there is lodging on the 30-acre farmstead. It’s a three-bedroom house with a fully equipped kitchen, including fresh milk and farmstead eggs (sign me up!). You’re invited to help with the dairy chores or try a little fly-fishing on the Touchet (pronounced two-she) River that runs along the property. When we were there, a honeymoon couple was enjoying the privacy of the house, so we stayed at a bed-and-breakfast in nearby Walla Walla.

This time of year, the ride from Walla Walla to the fromagerie is a breathtaking trip through the golden foothills of the Blue Mountains. Cattle dot the harvested wheat fields and farmhouses tucked into shaded canyons as well as linger in plain sight along the curving highway. It’s a lovely drive.

You might pass by the farmstead if you don’t follow the Web site’s simple directions and keep your eye out for the metal goat-and-antler sculpture sign. It leads to a small bridge with a smaller goat sign that points the way down the gravel road to the fromagerie.

I was introduced to the Monteillet Fromagerie at the Saturday Portland Farmers Market. That’s where I met cheesemaker Pierre-Louis Monteillet and had the chance, week after week, to taste a variety of his fresh, hand-ladled goat- and sheep-milk cheeses. Monteillet is a friendly, generous man who is eager to share his knowledge and his cheeses. For someone new to the world of artisanal chevres (goat) and brebis (sheep) cheeses, his lessons are delectable. (Trust me, you won’t be able to resist the subtle, nutty flavor of his Larzac, a soft-ripened goat cheese that’s divided in half by a line of grape leaf ash.)

You’ll undoubtedly be welcomed, as we were, by the ebb and flow of bleating young Alpine goats peering through the pasture fence and the tail-wagging trot of Marti, the farmstead’s resident border collie. Everyone is happy here, even the hardworking humans.

We arrived Friday, during a lull in the daily routine of milking and cheesemaking. Every morning at 5 and again at 5 in the afternoon, there is the necessary milking. Next comes the pasteurizing and/or the ladling of the curds and the other cheesemaking chores that make for 20-hour days. Luckily, Joan read our minds and suggested a short tour of the facility followed by a cheese sampling. To accompany it, she chose a chilled bottle of local L’Ecole’s Seven Hills Vineyard Estate Luminesce.

We made ourselves comfortable in the tiny, grape-arbor patio. This could easily be in the French countryside. Pierre-Louis suggested beginning with the fresh chevre made within 48 hours of milking, which Joan thinks is ideal on salads or used in pasta. It’s terrific on its own, too. Next, she had us sample the fresh herbed chevre made with a bouquet of herbs grown at the farm. (It would taste great as a spread on a sandwich or as an appetizer with crackers.)

We tried several others, including a soft-ripened chevre, dusted in grape leaf ash and crowned with gold dust. Named Le Roi Noir, it honors their friend, LeRoy Cunningham, who co-owns and operates the popular WhoopemUp Hollow Cafe in nearby Waitsburg (another tasty destination worth the trip; www.whoopemuphollowcafe.com). Could life be any better than this?

The moment was over far too quickly. It was time for Pierre-Louis to pack up his truck and begin the 270-plus-mile drive to Portland to prepare for an early rising on Saturday for another Portland Farmers Market.
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