Skagit Food Co-op blog:

the Cheese Whisperer

The Cheese Whisperer: Find a New Favorite Cheese for National Cheese Day!

For cheese lovers, everyday is cheese day, but it’s officially National Cheese Day on Monday, June 4th! Celebrate with us and visit the Co-op’s Specialty Cheese Island for everyday low prices.

American Grana – raw milk Parmesan-style cheese

Check out these sales good through the entire month of June:

  • BelGioioso American Grana ($6.99 lb, reg $11.99 lb)
  • Barbers 1833 Vintage English Cheddar ($10.99 lb, reg $12.99 lb)
  • Mitica Cana de Oveja (soft ripened sheep milk cheese) ($13.99 lb, reg $16.99 lb)
  • Mitica Cana de Cabra (soft ripened goat milk cheese) ($13.99 lb, reg $16.99 lb)

Cheese at the Co-op

Our selection of cheese is second to none in Skagit County. We offer an eclectic range of top quality cheese from around the world and local standouts. From soft-ripened French bries to Spanish Manchego, Italian Parmesan and superb raw milk Alpine Swiss cheese.

Ferndale Farmstead’s Scamorza cheese

We feature an amazing selection of cheeses from local producers of Western Washington, as well as California, Wisconsin and New England. A list of local favorites includes:

  • Acme Farms Cheese of Acme, WA: handcrafted, soft-ripened Brie and Camembert
  • Appel Farms of Ferndale, WA: plain and assorted flavored Gouda
  • Ferndale Farmstead of Ferndale, WA: farmstead fresh mozzarella, Fontina, Caciotta, Scaramoza Italian-style cheeses
  • Golden Glen Creamery of Bow, WA: Cheddar, Gouda and assorted flavored cheddars
  • Samish Bay Cheese of Bow, WA: organic, farmstead fresh cheese, Mont Blanchard Cheddar, Gouda and flavored gouda
  • Skagit Maid Creamery of Samish Island, WA: soft-ripened Skagit Camembert

Going dairy free or vegan? No problem. We also carry a selection of artisan crafted non-dairy and vegan options, including: Miyoko’s, Kite Hill, Daiya, Chao and Lisanatti.

Welcome to the Cheese Family

There’s a lot to be said for and about cheese. And many types to get familiar with. Cheese is transformation. Thousands of different cheeses exist across the world, with more on the way each year. Each begins as milk, and is heated or processed in someway. There are several basic families of cheese, each of which can be served at room temperature on a cheese platter. Get to know the family:

Soft Ripened

This type of cheese has interiors that are not pressed or cooked. Creamy and gooey, soft cheese has a moisture level at 50%-60%. Soft ripened cheeses ripen in a month or so and are sprayed with penicillium candidum mold culture to create a fluffy, “bloomy” rind.

Serving Tips: Pair with crusty bread or crackers and fresh fruit like apples and grapes. These cheeses match nicely to the robust flavors of beer, cider and wine, and are also tasty in sandwiches, soups and casseroles.

Examples: Camembert / Brie / Bucherondin



Firmer and more compact than soft varieties, semi-soft cheese has a 45%-50% moisture level. This category includes a wide range of cheeses that vary incredibly according to production techniques and ripening methods.

Serving Tips: Include on cheese platters, at room temperature with nuts, olives and fruit. Use semi-soft cheese for fondues, melting on pizza, pastas, in quiches, soups, salads and grilled sandwiches.

Examples: Mozzarella / Monterey Jack / Raclette



One of the largest categories of cheese in terms of variety and popularity, firm cheese include Cheddar and Gouda. Typically firm cheese has a supple texture without an edible rind. To make firm cheese, the interior is drained and pressed before being cooked. Some types are unripened (such as Beecher’s Fresh Curds) while others ripen for three to six months. Firm cheese has moisture levels of 35%-45%, and can sometimes form “eyes” (common in Swiss-style cheeses) when gas is created before the interior hardens.

Serving Tips: Add the sharp flavor and saltiness of firm cheeses to roasted vegetables dishes, omelettes, soups or pizzas.

Examples: Cheddar / Gouda / Swiss Gruyere



As the name suggests, these cheeses have blue or green streaks of mold on their surface and interior. Blue cheeses are made by adding a culture (usually penicillium roqueforti or penicillium candidum) to the curdled milk and piercing the pressed wheels with long needles to allow air circulation and the growing of blue veins. Blue cheese ripens for several months in a humid, cave-like environment.

Serving TipsEnjoy the strong flavor of blue cheese with something sweet and salty, such as fresh fruit, nuts or cooked meats. Add blue crumbles to enhance the flavor of salad dressing, dipping sauce or pasta dishes.

Examples: Gorgonzola / Blue Stilton / Point Reyes Farmstead Blue


Unripened or Fresh

Fresh cheese is made simply by leaving milk out in ambient air (or adding enzymes) to allow it to curdle. The curdled milk is shaped and drained. With a high moisture content (over 60%) fresh cheese is delicate and can be liquid, smooth or creamy. As the name indicates, fresh cheese must be eaten soon, to prevent spoilage.

Serving Tips: use fresh cheese as a spread for crackers and sandwiches, or a topping for salads. Often served for dessert or in baked goods, fresh cheese can be used to stuff fruit or poultry.

Examples: Ricotta / Farmers Cheese / Cream Cheese


Cooking Cheesey Style: Recipes

Cheese care is self-care. Read the article 10 Common Crimes Against Cheese to learn about some helpful cheese storage and serving tips. Some of my favorite cheeses are on sale this month, including versatile tangy Barbers Vintage Cheddar from the UK. Read on for some recipes to utilize the flavors and textures of these treats.

Paula Barber’s Sables

Make these crispy, cheesey short breads to serve with soups, salads or cured meats. Recipe and photo adapted from


  • 3 oz of Barber’s 1833 Vintage Cheddar, grated
  • 1 egg, free range or best quality
  • 3 oz butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 oz unbleached flour, sifted
  • salt and pepper


Gently combine butter into the sifted flour with hands, add the cheese with seasoning. Press together into a paste. Roll out fairly thinly and cut into wide strips 2 inch or so. Brush with beaten egg, and cut each strip into triangles. Bake in a moderately hot oven for 10 minutes or until golden.


Pizza Beans

A flavorful vegetarian recipe adapted from Deb Perelman’s cookbook Smitten Kitchen Every Day


  • 1/2 pound Ferndale Farmstead mozzarella, coarsely shredded
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 large or 2 regular carrots, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry white or red wine (optional)
  • 4 ounces curly kale leaves, chopped or torn
  • 2 1/4 cups crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound cooked firm-tender giant white beans
  • Up to 3/4 cup vegetable broth, as needed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for garnish (optional)


Prepare the beans and vegetables: Heat the oven to 475 degrees. In a 2 1/2-to-3-quart, oven-safe deep sauté pan or shallow Dutch oven, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the onion, celery, and carrots.

Season well with salt and black or red pepper. Cook, sautéing, until the vegetables brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Pour in the wine, if using, and scrape up any stuck bits, then simmer until it disappears, 1 to 2 minutes. Mix in kale, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until collapsed, then add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add the beans, and, if the mixture looks too dry or thick (canned tomatoes range quite a bit in juiciness), add up to 3/4 cup broth, 1/4 cup at a time. Simmer the mixture together over medium for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasonings as needed.

Bake: Sprinkle the beans first with the mozzarella, then the Parmesan, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top. If you’re impatient and want a deeper color, you can run it under the broiler. Finish with parsley, if desired.

Creamy Mushroom Brie Soup & Garlic Bruschetta

A fantastic and comforting soup, perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. Serve with a side salad or sandwich. Yields 2 entree portions or 4 small bowls.  Recipe & photo adapted from


For the Soup:

  • 1/4 diced celery
  • 1/3 diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter, halved
  • 12 oz mushrooms (cremini, button, etc.) mushrooms, sliced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1/4 tsp fresh)
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • a pinch of allspice
  • black pepper and any additional salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry (or 1/8 cup apple cider vinegar + 1/8 cup water)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup (8 oz) brie, rind removed
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh parsley and chopped green onion, garnish

For the Bruschetta:

  • 1/2 baguette or crusty bread, sliced into rounds
  • 1-2 tablespoons butter
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup shredded American Grana cheese


Set out dairy and bring room temperature. In a large pot, melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter and saute celery and onion until tender and translucent. Add 12 oz of your favorite mushrooms and another 1/2 tablespoon of butter. Cook over medium-low heat. Once the mushrooms begin to give up a bit of their liquid, add pinch of salt and garlic. Cook for a few minutes to brown the mushrooms.

Add thyme, pinch of optional cayenne and allspice. Pour in dry sherry (or apple cider vinegar and water substitute) and bring to a boil on medium high. Mix in vegetable broth and half and half and bring back up to a boil. Then reduce heat and simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes.

Blend using an immersion blender until smooth OR remove the soup from heat, allow to cool a bit and then puree in small batches in a food processor or blender, then add back to the pot. Bring the heat back up and cook for about 10-20 minutes. Stir in the brie and heavy cream and simmer for an additional 10 min.

While simmering, prepare the bruschetta: lightly toast the bread rounds. Combine the garlic and butter, and spread on toasted bread. Top with shredded Grana cheese. Serve hot soup with a garnish with green onion, parsley and mushroom toasts, if desired.

By: Claire

ClaireClaire Harlock Garber loves to eat and drink and write about it. She has worked in the food industry for nearly a decade and was on staff at the Skagit Valley Co-op from 2010-2018, writing the regular columns Skagit Brew Corner, The Cheese Whisperer, The Bounty of Bulk, and What's Dippin' in the Well for the Co-op's blog, as well as articles for the Natural Enquirer newsletter.