From our Seattle correspondent Jenni P.:
Anthony Estrella calls my daughter the Cheese Baby, and since she’s been old enough to talk she’s called him the Cheese Man. We’ve been buying cheese from Anthony at Seattle farmers markets for the past couple of years. Every week we take home a haul; and every week the Cheese Baby eats most of it, sometimes unwrapping and eating a whole wedge while I’m still unloading produce.
Delighted by her love of cheese, Anthony and his wife Kelli, who makes the cheese from the raw cow and goat milk produced on their farm, invited the Cheese Baby to the Estrella Family Creamery cave christening, held Saturday night. Happily, her dad and I got to tag along.
We arrived to see Ernest, one of the Estrellas’ sons who we’ve often met at markets along with his dad and his brother Samuel, getting home from a farmers market. When we asked him about peeking into the milk parlor as suggested by the program, he pointed us to Samuel. Though he’d just finished the milking, Samuel indulged us with a tour.
Back outside, Samuel, who does most everything at a run, ran off toward the goats when he spotted an open gate in their direction. We followed, hoping to visit the goats. Samuel OK’d our request after warning us not to let the buck pee on us. We limited our visit to the mama goats and their kids, who must be bottle fed, guessing by how enthusiastically they greeted us.
Returning to the party, we found Anthony among friends in the garden. He remarked on the lack of hoofmarks on my dress. The requested party attire was semi-formal. (“Interpreted loosely,” said Kelli — “This is a farm.”) In the few minutes we’d been with the goats, Anthony’s sons had changed into dress clothes. Anthony too was looking sharp in a black suit with a maroon dress shirt and silver tie.
With the men of honor in suits and guests drinking wine in the garden, the event had the feel of a wedding, a feeling reinforced when Kelli appeared. She greeted her guests, glowing with love and pride and nearly shaking with nervous excitement.
Checking on party logistics, Kelli discovered that the abundant cheese table, sharing garden space with the wine, had no knives on it. When guests said they thought maybe the cheese was meant for display, she exclaimed, “Are you kidding? That’s for eating!” and when the knives appeared, a crowd encircled the small table, anxiously waiting for a turn to slice off a piece.
After we’d sampled several varieties from the cheese table, Kelli enticed us from the garden into the creamery for a tour of the existing “caves” – really refrigerated aging rooms. She told us how initially the first cave held all the varieties of cheese she made, which was a great challenge because of the differing and sometimes conflicting temperature and humidity needs of the several varieties. She gained greater control when the family added the second cave, a refrigerated shipping container with two separate rooms.
We were at the farm to celebrate the completion of their third cave, the first one truly underground, named Cave Beulah. After touring the existing caves, guests were asked to gather around Beulah. Kelli said a few words of thanks before the family’s pastor offered a blessing, and then Chef Roy Breimann of the Salish Lodge conducted the christening, opening the champagne with a saber and a blessing of his own, which he credited to Napoleon: “In good times you deserve it, and in bad you need it.”
After Anthony and Kelli showered Beulah in champagne, music began playing, accompanying the dancers swirling in white flowing dresses.
These ceremonies were succeeded by a remarkable feast, including roast veal, spit-roasted baby goat, grilled salmon, mussels, heirloom potatoes, farro salad with root vegetables, and of course a selection of Estrella cheeses, the cheese table having been moved by tractor from the garden to the supper tents, which we were lit by candles and light strings.
At our table, we cleared the heaping plates we’d been served and then tracked down bread to accompany the butter that had sat tantalizing us throughout the meal. After Kelli, Ernest, and other family and friends whipped a vast bowl of cream by hand to cheering and applause, we were helped to a nectarine-and-raspberry tart made by Café Flora with a crust like shortbread and a mound of that freshly whipped cream.
We thus finished our meal with two Estrella creamery products that we can’t buy at the farmers market: whipped cream (not available because the cream usually goes into the cheese), and butter (it’s illegal to sell unpasteurized butter in the state of Washington).
Though we’d eaten many servings of cheese on the farm Saturday night, we sought out the Cheese Man at Sunday’s market to get more for the coming week (assuming the cheese would make it as far as our fridge). Sadly, the Estrella tent was nowhere in sight. The revelry had kept the family up late, and with a two-hour drive from the farm in Montesano to the Ballard market in Seattle in order to start setting up at 8 a.m., it shouldn’t have been surprising that Anthony (left, with the Cheese Baby) was missing.
We’ll look for him next week, because as far as the Cheese Baby is concerned, the Cheese Man is the sole reason for the market’s existence.