Inner-City Cheese


As if Portland weren’t already a hipster haven, the city upped its cool quotient with the opening of Ancient Heritage Dairy early this year. The petite urban creamery—a transplant from central Oregon—now creates its cheeses in a light-filled corner building in southeast Portland, in an area with so many food-focused entrepreneurs that it’s dubbed the Artisan Corridor. Big plate-glass windows invite pedestrians to pause and watch as milk is transformed into curd, and they can purchase the results at a retail counter next door. Extreme locavores can now enjoy their Portland-brewed craft beer with Portland-baked artisan bread and Portland-produced cheese. And, honestly, what more do you need?
Paul and Hank Obringer, a father-son team, make the Ancient Heritage cheeses. Paul and his late wife started the endeavor almost a decade ago near Salem, specializing in farmstead sheep’s-milk cheeses. Later, the family transferred the venture to Madras, Oregon, to provide a drier, healthier climate for the sheep. Last year, with the impending move to Portland, the Obringers sold the flock but contracted to buy back the milk. A nearby dairy provides organic cow’s milk for Ancient Heritage’s mixed-milk wheels.
Hannah (pictured above), an aged wheel from an 80/20 blend of raw cow’s and sheep’s milk, impressed me when I visited the creamery this spring. The 5-1/2-pound wheels have a thin, dry, natural rind that develops over six months in the aging room. The interior is pale gold and firm, breaking cleanly and revealing a nutty, brown-butter aroma. The flavor is tart and not shy on salt; Hannah’s tang reminds me a bit of Caerphilly, the lemony British cheese, but the similarity ends there.
Being in Portland has advantages, says Emily Davidson, the creamery’s sales manager. The urban location provides access to a large customer base and reduces the distance from cheese to consumer.

 New digs for Ancient Heritage Dairy

New digs for Ancient Heritage Dairy

On the other hand, the sheep’s milk now has to travel. Fortunately, high-fat sheep’s milk freezes well, as the three-hour trek from the farm is too long for frequent deliveries. Davidson says that Hannah made with frozen milk is indistinguishable from a wheel made with fresh milk; more noticeable are the flavor, milkfat and protein changes attributable to season. 
Named after one of Oregon’s many covered bridges, Hannah is produced only once a week in 175-pound batches. That is minuscule. The Obringers use animal rennet to coagulate the milk, cook the curd before draining and molding it, then press the wheels and brine them for a day. Following that seasoning, Hannah moves to the drying and aging rooms. “She’s a low-maintenance lady,” says Davidson. “She’s turned a few times, but after the third month, we just let her be.”
Look for Ancient Heritage Dairy Hannah at Mission Cheese, Little Vine and Union Larder in San Francisco and at Pasta Shop in Berkeley. With tart cheeses, I usually reach for an IPA, but Hannah’s buttery notes appreciate some malt. Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA has enough of a malty foundation to do the job.

SF Cheese Shop Changes Hands

Gourmet & More, the French-inflected shop in Hayes Valley, has recently changed hands and names. Laurent and Josiane Recollon sold their Gough Street business to the folks who operate three Country Cheese Coffee Market stores in the East Bay. The new owners are relaunching the shop as San Francisco Cheese & Wine and likely diversifying the inventory; under the Recollons, who import French cheeses, France dominated the shelves. Josiane Recollon says cheesemonger Kate Hill will stay—that’s good news—as will the controlled-atmosphere cheese cave in the rear. “We needed to focus on the wholesale side,” says Recollon. “It was hard to do the right job in both places.”