Farm Tour: Pleasant Valley Dairy and the Spring Cheeses

Point your car an hour and a half north of Seattle and stop before you hit the Canadian border. You are now in Whatcom County and until this trip, I paid little more than a passing glance en route to more northern points of interest. But when you slow down a while, what comes into view are some destination-worthy stops. Picture rolling valleys, lush coastal waterways, and artisan craftsmen around every bend...if you know where to look. It's an easy day trip destination from Seattle, but I recommend making a weekend out of it. Pack a cooler, arm yourself with a copy of Whatcom County's Food & Farm Finder (download here)...and you are ready for a delicious adventure!

Earlier this spring, I was invited on a culinary tour with the Whatcom County Convention & Visitors Bureau. On the go from morning 'til night, I joined a handful of media folks for a three-day trip that had no shortage of eating and drinking.

Returning to my room at the fabulous Chrysalis Inn & Spa, lulled by the waves lapping on the shore just outside my window, I'd slip into the soaking tub and review the day's notes. This was a whirlwind feast heady with new experiences...and it left an indelible impact.

I've been going through a ton of photos and have lots to let's get started. First up: Let's take a spin down Kickerville Road and visit the folks at at Pleasant Valley Dairy.

Note: The tasting room operates on a seasonal schedule and is closed Sunday & Monday. To be on the safe side, give them a call before you head out. (Contact info is at the bottom.)

Pleasant Valley Dairy is a working farm, surrounded by sweet grass and herds of grazing dairy cows. It's here that I finally realized...some cheese makers buy their milk, others take control of the whole process and raise their own dairy cows. Our visit to Pleasant Valley Dairy coincided with the spring calving season.

Milked twice daily, these cows are heading into the barn for their morning milking.

Shortly after birth, the calves are separated from the mother and at this farm, they're housed in these mini yurts. A dozen of these units were lined up, each occupied by a young calf. Eventually the calves will be reintroduced to the herd.

This sweet calf was born just days before we arrived.

Vat of raw milk, separating into curds and whey.

Often called "guitars" or "mandolins" these are used to cut the curd.

After the curds separate from the whey, they are seasoned and packed into plastic molds to drain away moisture. Next step, a brine bath.

The brining solution helps flavor the cheese and stiffen the curd. (This is Pleasant Valley Dairy's red jalapeno.)

Aging the cheese.

Looks rather alarming, doesn't it? Those splotches of red are traces of wax, which is used to enrobe the cheese.

Another aging room. These cheeses have already received their wax seal.

Third-generation cheese maker.

It doesn't get any fresher than this.

Have a taste.

There are a multitude of variables when it comes to making cheese...seasonality, temperature, and humidity are just a few. Ensuring a consistent product requires detailed notes.

Look who I found at the tasting room! (Love his Oshkosh shirt.)

Sampling the finished product. We tried them all.

Cheese lovers come in all sizes.

Farm living--a perfect spot for a swing and a nap.

Pleasant Valley Dairy

6804 Kickerville Road
Ferndale, WA 98248