The website reads: “From Pinot to Parm, cider to charcuterie, sauces to sardines, Cheese Bar is your Portland source for unique artisan products and authentic pantry staples.”
I’m crying a little now, thinking that all too soon I’ll no longer be able to park up off of SE Belmont on Mt Tabor for a pint and a snack in this cheery, light-filled neighborhood joint that attracts both in-the-know locals as well as food adventurers from around the world. Owner Steve Jones, author and famed 2nd Annual Cheesemonger Invitational-winner, announced that sometime in the end of January they will hang up their aprons and call it a day. Judging by the confessionals and condolences on Instagram, the city of Portland will truly miss this magical place, the very definition of a third place, that so many have loved so intensely. Cheese Bar, like every small restaurant and cafe, was struck a huge blow in the spring when covid-19 hit and everything shut down. They pivoted to stay afloat by essentially becoming a to-go bodega, offering an extended menu of dried goods and pantry items, artisan beer and wine and cider, and, of course, world-class cheese. Now, I haven’t spoken with Steve yet (though we did tentatively set a date for an exit interview down the road), but I’ve been a struggling small business owner myself, and if I was a betting man, I’d wager that as difficult as this decision may be, it comes with a huge amount of relief as well. Furloughing staff, juggling ever-changing shut-down orders, dealing with anti-maskers, managing perishable food inventories…yikes! Frankly, given zero leadership on a national scale to help save the restaurant industry, this doesn’t quite come as a shock. It is a safe bet, however, that we’re all looking forward to what Steve does next.
INSIDE THE MIND OF A CHEESEMONGER
Five years ago, after retiring from Top Shelf Productions, and before launching Kitchen Table Magazine, I ran a food & nature blog called Acorn Feather Nosh. My evolution as a food nerd blossomed, as I set about on a journey of discovery, hell-bent on learning where our food comes from, and why that idea is so crucial to the continued success of the human species.
I met Sasha Schwenk, then a cheesemonger at New Seasons Market, interviewed her for the blog, and together we hosted a cheese party on my back patio. (Remember when we could hang out together in large groups? Sigh…) When I asked Sasha where we might source our cheese bounty, she looked at me incredulously and said, Cheese Bar, of course. The woman at the counter really knew her shit, and walked us through a dizzying number of samples, offering up numerous superlative tasting descriptors until we came up with a solid list for the party. (See below.) Needless to say, our dairy affair was a hit.
SO MUCH CHEESE + SASHA’S TASTING NOTES
• Les Bergers DuLarzac Blue DeBrebis, raw sheep (Larzac, France)
“Nutty, but mild. Supple texture.” • Basco Bearnaise LeBerger Basque, raw sheep (Pyrenees, France)
“Sweet and creamy. Fruity and caramel. Rich, savory. YUM.“
• Black Sheep Adnatou, sheep & cow (Adna, WA.)
“Lacy, sweet apricot finish, Swiss nutty complexity. Fabulous.”
• L’Escadut, raw sheep (France)
“Natural rind. Meaty, savory. Semi firm and supple. Salty!”
• Maxorata, goat (Spain)
“White, fruity. From the Canary Islands. “
• Mountain Lodge Wonderland, raw goat (Eatonville, WA.)
“Pure white, salty and rich. Easy eating, table cheese.”
CHEESE + BEER
Earlier this year, I stopped in at Cheese Bar and talked with Jones’ protégé and 2020 Cheese Monger Invitational winner, Sarah Munly. We highlighted Sarah’s tasting notes in issue #3, where she pairs Glacier Blue raw cow’s milk cheese from Cascadia Creamery with Unbowed Imperial Stout from Grains of Wrath Brewing. You’ll have to buy the new issue to read said notes, but you can still feast on the images.
THE BOOK: CHEESE BEER WINE CIDER
Steve Jones is also the co-author, with Adam Lindsley, of Cheese Beer Wine Cider, an authoritative primer for how to pair different cheeses with your favorite libation. Buy the book here and support both the authors, as well as Powell’s Books.
Steve, best of luck to you and yours, and thanks so much for making an indelible mark on the Portland food scene.