The Oregon Trail: Briar Rose Creamery

Sarah Marcus is a woman that knows what she wants. Over the past 7 years she has worked tirelessly to build a brand known for beautiful cheese in the heart of Oregon wine country. I’ve been fortunate to watch that brand grow and while I have always thought that she made delicious cheese, I feel like she is coming into her own as a cheese maker and the products that she is currently making are wonderful expressions of her surroundings and a blossoming of her inherent talent.

Sarah found her love of cheese working behind the counter at Cowgirl Creamery at the Ferry Building. It’s a fantastic place to build a palate due to the high quality European and domestic cheeses they carry on a regular basis. From there she was able to secure an internship cheesemaking with the Cowgirls in Pt Reyes Station which ignited her spark to one day be a cheesemaker. On a vacation in England, Sarah was able to snag an internship in Devon for a cheese named Ticklemore. She also interned at Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina where she saw the full breadth of being a small, artisan cheesemaker, from bookkeeping to farmer’s market, to the intensive cleaning after a good cheese make. This is when she knew that this is what she wanted to do with her life.

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In 2008, her and her husband/co-owner, Jim, moved to Dundee, Oregon where they began the grueling task of creating a cheesemaking facility from scratch. Nestled on a Filbert patch (hazelnuts for non-Oregonians), the state of the art facility is easily tucked away but still very accessible for those that would like a cheese stop in their wine tour. Wine is big business in this area and people travel from all over the country to experience what Oregon has to offer.

Like a lot of new cheesemakers, Briar Rose Creamery began with fresh chevre. It’s an easy cheese to turn quickly and reap the benefits from, but since there are so many fresh chevres out there, competition is tight. Sarah found her perfect milk source in Tillamook, which is about 70 miles from where Dundee sits. This coastal climate lends itself to a deliciously flavored milk that can’t be replicated anywhere else. It’s a long way to transport milk, but Sarah knows that the best milk makes the best cheese so it’s what needs to be done. This is what differentiates her fresh chevre from others on the market. That, and she also takes her time during the make. Keeping those pillowy, soft curds in tact makes the cheese velvety and smooth.

Sarah’s love for music and mythology are fully expressed in her cheeses. Her aging rooms are named Heidi and Thor and many of her cheeses have names that have roots in folklore and hold ties to special songs. There is an inherent rustic quality in the Briar Rose line up that makes these names just fit so perfectly. Lorelei, a pudge of a cheese that has been washed in Deschutes Brewing, Black Butte Porter fittingly named after a river siren in German folklore that would lure sailors to their ultimate demise and also references songs by the Cocteau Twins and The Pogues. Iris, a firm, washed cheese that’s name stems from Sarah’s love of the flower and the Greek goddess which is a messenger that links the gods to humanity. I like to believe that Sarah infuses a bit of magic in all of her cheese to the betterment of all who taste!

It’s a long process from putting the milk in the vat to the aging room. Cutting, washing, draining, and flipping the cheese into the molds to prep them for the long wait until they get to be in the hands of an anxious turophile.

It’s a long wait but the end result is worth all the effort and time.

You can find Briar Rose Creamery at the Beaverton Farmer’s Market and at select stores through the Portland area. Their distribution has seen an increase in the last few years so I’ve seen it in San Francisco and know that it does make it’s way across the country at times. Keep an eye out at your favorite counter and make sure to ask your local cheesemonger for a taste when the opportunity comes up!