There are six beer festivals on the Washington Beer Commission's calendar, but the state's artisan cheese makers have never before gathered for a public tasting.
"I thought it was really weird there was nothing to showcase them," says Lisa Miyashita, a beer industry alum. "And I was surprised, because a lot of people obviously like cheese. Then I thought, I can do this."
Miyashita has corralled 20 of Washington's 40 artisan cheese producers for next month's first-ever Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival. The Apr. 7 event at the Seattle Design Center will be preceded by a private industry tasting meant to help acquaint local restaurant owners with the state's range of cheeses.
The number of Washington cheese makers has grown exponentially over the last decade. "I've been hearing the climate here is really suitable for raising animals," Miyashita says. Tami Parr of the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project says increased interest in local foods and robust farmers markets have also helped create demand for homegrown cheese.
Cheese makers participating in the event include longtime producers, such as Beecher's Handcrafted Cheese, and newly-licensed dairies making their sampling debut. Although many of the cheese operations are clustered on the coastal end of the state, Monteillet Fromagerie, the first farmstead cheese maker in the Walla Walla valley, will be serving its goat cheese.
"We really like people to get to know their cheese makers," Miyashita says. "Once you get to know your cheese maker, you'll appreciate cheese even more."
Tickets to the festival are $35 in advance, or $40 at the door; sales benefit the Cascade Harvest Coalition. The tasting is scheduled for 12 noon-6 p.m.