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Mt. Townsend Creamery

Award-winning cheese

The growth of cheese making in Washington has been nothing short of explosive over the last 10 years, with as few as seven licensed cheese makers in 2000 increasing to more than 40 in 2010. One of the stars of this cheese-making renaissance is Mt. Townsend Creamery in Port Townsend.

Founded in 2004, Mt. Townsend began commercial production of cheese in March of 2005. Since then, Mt. Townsend has become well known for its Trailhead tomme, Cirrus – a Camembert, and Seastack, which is modeled after the Chaource style, the first three cheeses they produced. Indeed, recalls co-owner Matthew Day, on the first day of the Jefferson County Farmers Market in Port Townsend in May 2005, they introduced these three cheeses to the public. They were so well received, said Day, that they had to go back to their shop to restock three separate times. "Such overwhelming enthusiasm reinforced that we hadn't completely gone mad to go into the cheese business," said Day.

Mt. Townsend Creamery
338 Sherman Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Photo copyright of Zachary D. Lyons

Mt. Townsend now crafts more than a dozen cows-milk cheeses, and the awards have begun rolling in. Trailhead won 1st Place in the Domestically-produced International-style Cows Milk category at the 2008 American Cheese Society (ACS) competition, and it came in second in two other categories. "Because the International-style Cows Milk category is such a large class, encompassing many varieties of cheese, including jacks and cheddars, this award was especially meaningful for us," said Day. This first award was followed by a first place for Trailhead in the same category at the 2009 U.S. Cheese Championship in Wisconsin; a first place for Truffle Stack in the Cheese & Dairy category at the 2010 Fancy Foods Show in San Francisco; a first place for Seastack in the Soft Ripened category at the 2010 ACS competition held in Seattle; and a second place for New Moon in the Jack category, also at the 2010 ACS competition.

Farmers markets continue to play a huge role for Mt. Townsend, accounting for 25-30% of their total sales. Direct wholesale sales account for another 25-30%, and sales out of their store at their production facility 10-15%, with outside distribution adding another 30%. Mt. Townsend is not unique, of course, in building its cheese business on direct marketing. Many of Washington's best-known cheese makers use farmers markets and direct distribution as important marketing tools, including Estrella, Golden Glen, Port Madison, Samish Bay, Willapa Hills and others.

Day founded Mt. Townsend with Ryan Trail and Wil O'Connell, as well as several silent partners from the Port Townsend community. O'Connell was working with a small, local dairy co-op when Day and Trail approached him about making cheese. Trail, who came from the New Belgium Brewery in Colorado, had gotten together with Day to experiment with cheese making in their kitchens in 2003 after they got to know each other over pub conversations about local food. Trail had a friend from New Belgium who had started a cheese making business who gave them advice. In June 2004, the trio secured a location for production, and after many months of remodeling the building, they began production in early 2005. O'Connell left the company in 2008. Currently all the milk used by Mt. Townsend Creamery comes from a single dairy, Mapleview Farm in Sequim.

Below: And they bowl, too! Ryan Trail, left, Matthew Day, right

Mt. Townsend currently makes Trailhead, Cirrus and Seastack, as well as Truffle Stack – a truffled version of Seastack, Fromage Blanc – a fresh cheese akin to chevre, as well as its truffled cousin, Truffle Fromage. Then there is New Moon – a Washington Jack, which has a version smoked by Crimson Cove in Poulsbo known as New Moon, cheese curds flavored plain, chipotle and garlic, and two new releases: Red Alder – an Italian toma "on the stinky side," and Off Kilter – a washed-rind tomme washed in Pike Brewing's Kilt Lifter Ale that is "not stinky."

Mt. Townsend Creamery has been an exercise in learning on the job, said Day. If the proof is in the pudding, as it were, they appear to be very good students.

You'll find Mt. Townsend cheeses through the holiday season at Broadway and Jefferson County farmers markets, and year-round at Ballard, University District and West Seattle farmers markets, with many others during the summer months. It is also available at local purveyors of fine cheeses as well as on the menus of many local restaurants and catering companies.

Zachary D. Lyons/December 2010

Photos courtesy of Zachary D. Lyons and Mt. Townsend Creamery

Zachary D. Lyons is the Communications Director for Seattle Farmers Market Association, President of Seattle Chefs Collaborative, a certified barbecue judge in both the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association and the Kansas City Barbecue Society, and a freelance food and agriculture writer.

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