What's Coming To Market?
Apples, grapes and pears will be abundant this week. Peaches, plums and nectarines will be readily available as will melons, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. As for vegetables, artichokes, lettuce and salad mix, tomatillos, carrots, beets, kale, green beans, tomatoes, summer squashes, peppers and more will be plentiful. Delicata squash showed up at market last week and should be available this Sunday.
This year's unusual weather continues to alter the plans for our farmers. Ayers Creek Farm will end their summer run at least one week early. On the bright side, they will return at least one week earlier in November. Anthony and Carol expect to have a good supply of corn, beans and preserves, as well as chicories, escaroles and other autumn greens when they return. Kookoolan Farms will be at market this Sunday but will not be at market on September 13th *will not be at market this Sunday or September 13th. (Processor issues). Kookoolan Farms will be back on September 20th.
THIS WEEK'S VENDORS
Ayers Creek Farm
Ancient Heritage Dairy
Baird Family Orchards
Deep Roots Farm
DeNoble's Farm Fresh
Draper Girls Country Farm
Fraga Farmstead Creamery
Fressen Artisan Bakery
Gathering Together Farm
Gee Creek Farm
Happy Cup Coffee
Happy Harvest Farm
Herr Family Farm
Home Grown Food Products
Linda Brand Crab
Naked Acres Farm
Pine Mountain Ranch
Rick Steffen Farm
Salmon Creek Farm
Souper Natural, LLC
Sun Gold Farm, LLC
Unger Farms Inc.
Vendor Spotlight: Ancient Heritage Dairy
Farmers’ markets are a collection of businesses, a temporal grocery store where each shelf comes with a smiling face and a wealth of knowledge about the products they create. We’re giving our vendors the spotlight to share more about their role in the Hillsdale market community.
Words and Photos By Sarah West
Paul and Kathy Obringer decided to take their experiments in home cheese making onto the entrepreneurial stage when they founded Ancient Heritage Dairy in 2005. Selling at first through local farmers markets (they joined the Hillsdale lineup in 2007), they slowly developed a reputation for uniquely delicious soft-ripened cheeses. The Obringers raised their own sheep for milk, and Kathy developed recipes based on French-style cheeses with supple, creamy texture and a flavor profile that oozed of butter, grass, and citrus.
The business was always a family affair, but with Kathy’s unexpected death in 2010, it became a vehicle to knit the family more closely together and process their loss by continuing the work that Kathy loved. Paul and Kathy’s son, Hank, took over her position as head cheese-maker at the ripe age of 21, and soon became a partner in the business with his father.
Since then, Hank, Paul, and a small team of dedicated employees, have transformed Ancient Heritage Dairy, most notably by relocating from the dry grasslands of Madras to an up and coming corner of inner southeast Portland at the start of 2015. The tradeoff—one that was not easy for Paul Obringer to make—was to move from the country to the city, selling off their sheep herd and accepting a new way of life. The benefit is everything you see below—a beautiful expanded facility, three cheese caves, and better access to distributors and wholesale buyers. But the real results—the innovation that growth and risk always spawns—are still in the making.
Ancient Heritage’s new southeast Portland creamery is located in the Weatherly Creamery Building (at the corner of SE Main St. and 7th Avenue), which was built in the early 1920’s by Portland businessman George Weatherly to house his expanding ice cream business. Ancient Heritage will honor the building’s legacy by increasing the output of their current artisan cheese line for wider distribution. Passers-by can also sneak a peak through the creamery’s large windows for a glimpse of cheese making in action.
Freshly made wheels of Ava cheese drip in their forms. Each eight pound mold will be flipped three times to insure the excess moisture seeps out evenly before taking a bath in concentrated brine that salts the cheese and prevents spoiling while it ages.
The pasteurizer is where Ancient Heritage’s soft-ripened cheeses start their journey. Heated with cultures to a pathogen-destroying temperature, the milk for these cheeses (either sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, or a blend of the two, depending on the cheese being made) sits in the pasteurizer until its curds have formed. Each cheese has a unique curd structure. Some are fine and make the mild the consistency of yogurt; others are large and irregularly shaped, like popcorn.
The curds, cut and separated from their whey, are placed into plastic forms that give them their shape and allow them to finish draining, such as these freshly made Adelles.
Once drained, the bloomy rind cheeses (those that are reminiscent of Brie) are removed from their forms and kept in the bloom cave, an immaculately clean walk-in cooler whose humid air is infused with cultures that set a fuzzy white “bloom” of mold on the outside of the cheese, giving its rind a distinctive white color and flavoring the cheese. Ancient Heritage’s Adelle, Valentine, and Pearl cheeses spend about two weeks in the bloom cave before they are ready for market.
Ancient heritage’s firmer cheeses, such as Hannah and Heritage, spend weeks in an aging cave to develop the molds that will slowly flavor them, drawing out rich caramel and nutty flavors and, eventually, crunchy protein crystals.
This photo shows different stages of young cheese wheels beginning to darken.
After some time in the “cultured” environment of the cave, the wheels become host to a garden of flavor-enhancing molds. Despite being a temperature controlled chamber inoculated with a specific set of mold cultures that the cheese makers want to encourage, the air in the caves fluctuates seasonally, cultivating slightly different mold communities and, therefore, subtle changes in the cheeses’ flavor and texture. The natural rind cheeses tend to be marginally wetter and more assertive in the winter, due to the season’s excess moisture.
The cheese makers monitor, flip, and rotate the aging cheeses regularly to insure they are maturing properly.
Isabella, a washed rind cheese, first gets “baptized” with cultured water to inoculate its rind with the right bacteria. Subsequent washings increase the flavor by limiting mold growth to specific varieties, and creating a medium-soft interior cheese without the gooey “slip” we associate with Brie or Camembert.
Isabella cheeses, a few washings in, are just starting to show signs of B. linens, a type of bacteria responsible for the reddish-orange color associated with washed rind cheese.
Purplish-gray wheels of Willow Creek cheese get their distinctive color from multiple red wine washings, lending the finished cheese a mild fruitiness and a slight earthy funk lent from the wine’s own bacterial culture.
Cheese making innovation never stops, even with a line of award-winning artisan cheeses under your belt. This is head cheese-maker, Hank Obringer’s latest experiment: a soft-ripened cheese washed in gluten-free beer. It has no name and no one’s tasted it yet (this is the first batch), but so far the results look promising. Stay tuned!
Despite scaling their production up significantly this year—including a new creamery and increased regional distribution as well as a recently launched online shop where anyone in the US can buy their cheeses—everything at Ancient Heritage is done by hand. In addition to making the cheese shelf-ready, hand packaging allows an important final quality inspection before the cheese leaves the creamery.
Ancient Heritage’s eight-month-old creamery shares a building with Alma Chocolate’s new tasting room, and Renata, an Italian restaurant (opened in May 2015) that was recently named the Oregonian’s restaurant of the year. Renata’s cooler houses some of the creamery’s inventory, and their small pantry-like shop, Mi Piace, sells the full line of Ancient Heritage cheeses among a small selection of imported foodstuffs. Perhaps the best part of Mi Piace (which doubles, at dinner hours, as the restaurant’s private dining room) is the viewing window into Ancient Heritage’s bloom cave, where you can peer at young Adelles and Valentines growing their snow-white rinds.
Ancient Heritage has made a concerted effort to increase the distribution of their cheeses beyond farmers markets and specialty cheese shops since partnering with investor Tony Arnerich in 2011, when they moved their Scio-based sheep dairy to Madras and expanded production to sell cheese to more local groceries and restaurants. While operating out of Madras, their cheeses continued to attract regional and national praise, and garnered multiple American Cheese Society awards. However, in ten years of entrepreneurship, one place the Obringers’ cheese has never been available for purchase is at the creamery itself. Their move to Portland has begun to change all that by facilitating better integration of their production schedule with viable distribution channels, as well as smaller, serendipitous changes like the smells of chocolate-making and bread-baking wafting into the creamery office, or a neighboring restaurant whose tiny store has the best Ancient Heritage cheese selection in town with a view of where it comes from.