From Willapa Hills with Love...

Courtesy of http://www.willapahillsfarms.com/.

Carefully perched above the foggy waters of the Chehalis River in Lewis County sits a family-run farm making gourmet cheese and yogurt. Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese, owned and operated by Amy Turnbull and Steve Hueffed, lies at the end of a picturesque one lane driveway lined with rust colored deciduous trees. Across acres of grassy pasture graze a flock of 150 Lacaune-East Friesian cross sheep, bred specifically to produce a line of blue and ricotta cheeses, the likes of which exceed the best this blogger has ever tasted.

While preparing for my cooking demo on KCTS 9, I contacted Willapa Hills in an effort to keep my ingredients as local and fresh as possible. After a quick email exchange we settled on a day when I could come down and taste. Little did I know how well I would be treated.

JJ Attack and I arrived at Willapa Hills in the morning, fog still hugging the dew covered pastures. Sheep and guardian dogs eyed us lazily as we drove by. Although I’m sure the dogs were less worried about my car and more interested in getting some well deserved sleep. Unlike herding dogs, these giant white sentinels keep the flock safe from coyote, cougar and other predators.

Courtesy of http://www.willapahillsfarm.com/.

Like all good experiences, this tour began with food. We were graciously greeted by Kelsie Mae at the entrance to the Farm Store, Willapa’s onsite store. Kelsie Mae had thoughtfully preselected two varieties on blue and a ricotta she felt would blend best with my recipe, and she hit the nail on the head.

First I tasted the Two-Faced Blue, a semi-soft sheep and cow milk blend (which I’m munching on now). Its restrained flavor is punctuated by well-developed blue veins and a delicate, creamy texture. The second cheese offered by Kelsie Mae was Willapa’s Big Boy Blue, a cow milk cheese. Big Boy is true to its name with a more intense bite and larger veins.

Then Kelsie Mae brought out the Pluvious (havarti/parmesan flavor) the yogurt cheese and the honey yogurt cheese. Holy cow. Yum across the board.

Courtesy of http://www.willapahillsfarm.com/.

After my tummy was full, owner and operator Amy came out to give us the tour of the farm. Since I’m a beginner in both farming and cheese making, Amy carefully explained their holistic approach from lambing in the spring to milking two times a day for six months of the year to the actually cheese making. As we slowly strolled along, part in due to JJ Attack’s inquisitiveness, Amy touched on the history of the farm, including the USGS river metering site that was sent downstream in the 2006 storms. During that famous 500 year storm, the water crested just below the deck on their home. The house was safe, but they nearly lost their outbuilding, which will be home to a couple of resident interns this summer. If you know of any agriculture or culinary students interested in learning the biz from pros have them contact Willapa Hills via the info on their website.

Our tour ended with a glimpse into the barn. And I’m talking BARN, not some metal building, but an honest to goodness hay barn with forty-foot ceilings and original pulleys. The bottom floor has been retrofitting for milking sheep and making cheese, but the upper level has been left untouched. Future plans include offering the space for events and I couldn’t imagine a better environment for a wedding or family reunion.

JJ Attack and I left Willapa Hills with an understanding of the patience and passion one needs to leave the city behind, follow your dream and actually build something with your hands. I think many of us dream of taking this courageous leap, but few do. I applaud Steven and Amy for being brave and stepping out of the fold, and for being ardently skilled, delivering to us consumers a product of the highest quality.

We will be back to Willapa Farms in the spring when the new lambs are born, when JJ Attack will be able to feed a lamb from a bottle. You are all welcome to join us.

Featured in high end stores like Whole Foods and Metropolitan Market, Willapa Farm’s cheese is also available at many local farmers markets including Puyallup, Proctor, throughout Seattle and in Portland as well. Willapa Farms offers all of their cheese and yogurt online at http://www.willapahillsfarm.com/. Check them out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Courtesy of http://www.willapahillsfarm.com/.