Kurt Dammeier is one of Seattle's true Renaissance men: an entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Beecher's Handmade Cheese, who this week finds himself in the national spotlight as host of the American Cheese Society's annual conference, Cheese-a-Topia.
Technical and industry seminars aside, there's an open-to-the-public event, at Benaroya Hall tonight (Saturday, Aug. 28): a grand tasting and awards show. Nearly 1,500 cheeses have been entered in dozens of categories by over 300 artisan cheesemakers nationwide. Two dozen local restaurants and wineries will have tasting booths; Michael Pollan will be on hand for a VIP tasting and preview.
We care about this because artisan cheesemaking is an activity that restores a human scale to the industrialization of food: pastured rather than pasteurized cows, hand-milked goats, sheep that are well-loved, grass that's been licked by salt air, a natural product that expresses its origins and whose essential bacteria haven't been sterilized to death. Puget Sound is blessed with ideal conditions for cheese; the number of cheese artisans in Washington, a handful just two years ago, now stands at 50.
Last year, seven of the eight cheeses entered by Beecher's won medals; the Flagship Four-Year Aged cheddar was named best in the country. It's the kind of professional validation that has prompted Dammeier to go national. Early next year he'll take a giant leap from the Pike Place Market and open a new retail outlet with expanded production facilities in Manhattan's Flatiron District, at Broadway and East 20th. Dammeier and his cheesemaker, Brad Sinko, have already developed a signature cheese for the new location: They call it Flatiron. It's a crottin-style, organic cows-milk cheese with a light orange rind, slightly stinky and intensely flavored (nutty and sweet).
If you go: Tickets to the Cheese-a-Topia tasting and Festival of Cheese will be available at Benaroya Hall tonight (Aug. 28). Doors open at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $85 — or $400 for a VIP package that includes a private tasting with Michael Pollan. VIP tickets can be purchased only through coordinator Katie Crow, at 206-322-1644, ext 38.
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