Have you hosted a wine and cheese party before? I have! Honestly, I thought of everything I could cook using cheese – lobster mac n cheese with cheddar, Gougeres (cheese puffs) with gruyere, baked brie en croute, arancini with parmesan, and much more. At the end of it, I felt heavy and couldn’t eat cheese for a while!
So when I got an invitation for a cheese-themed dinner from Tillamook Creamery, I got to check it out.
Tillamookis a farmer-owned cooperative dairy brand from Oregon and #1 natural cheese brand in the west. About 100 families are part of the Tillamook County Creamery Association, that have lived and worked on the farm for generations. They have been making award-winning cheddars since 1909 and their products are now available in grocery stores in Atlanta.
Two top chefs created a collaborative dinner at Better Half, a notable restaurant in downtown Atlanta. Surprisingly, the menu was not very cheesy at all!
We started with a housemaid rum punch and tasting of Tillamook Cheese – 9 months aged sharp white cheddar, mild and creamy pepper jack, complex special reserve extra sharp cheddar, robust vintage extra sharp white cheddar, and slightly sweet cape meares cheddar.
The 5-course Pacific Northwest Meets Southern Flavors themed dinner was created by Chef Doug Adams (Executive Chef/Owner of Portland based Bullard, Finalist on season 12 of Bbravo’s Top Chef), and Zachary Meloy (owner/ chef of Atlanta based Better Half).
Passed appetizers included crisp hush puppies and cheese filled taquitos. The first course was a tomato salad with colorful and sweet Georgia tomatoes served on a bed of dill buttermilk and vintage white cheddar. Paired with 2017 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir Rose, the dish was refreshing and light.
Second was an innovative version of ravioli. A thin sheet filled will pepper jack, set on eggplant puree, and topped with shaved pickled fennel and tomato caramel, it was a great blend of sweet, salt and crunch in every bite. We enjoyed 2015 Poggiobello from Italy with this.
For the meat course, there was slow smoked beef rib melt (which Chef Adams flew with him from Portland), as an open face sandwich on toasted homemade bread with jalapeños and sweet onion jam, and of course extra sharp cheddar. Some of us opted for a vegetarian version, where grilled eggplant was replaced by the beef. With a full bodied Chilean 2015 Lapostolle, it was simply delicious.
Have you tried melted cheddar on apple pie? Playing a twist on this southern tradition, the chefs created a fresh fig and honey tart, and topped it with crumbled medium cheddar and pink pepper ice cream. The cheese and pepper were a bit too savory for me, but the tart was incredible. 2016 Boundary Breaks Riesling was a great alternative to sweeter ports often served with dessert.
Of course we couldn’t leave without Better Half’s signature truffles – coconut and condense milk balls; along with a spiced moonshine made with fresh young coconut. Tillamook generously gave us some coupons to get their cheese from a neighborhood grocery store so I can reinvent my own cheese themed dinner party 🙂
If you are visiting Oregon, head over to Tillamook Creamery, a 2-hour drive from Portland to see how Tillamook Cheese is made. There’s also a Food Hall serving tempura battered cheese curds, fried chicken and cheddar biscuits, and pimento cheeseburgers. The ice-cream menu offers tasty flavors like caramel toffee crunch, Oregon dark cherry, Udderly chocolate, and malted moo shakes.
You may find a deeper appreciation for life on the farm and thank the many farmers that labored to create the delicious cheese sitting in your refrigerator. There are more cattle than humans in Tillamook and a great place to explore the Oregon Coast.
Got any cheese based recipe ideas to share? Post a comment below so we can all enjoy…