If wine and cheese get better with age, does it follow that wine stores and cheese shops get better with age, too? Considering Pike Place Market's best new tenant, yes (though age certainly didn't do the previous tenant, Seattle Garden Center, any favors). The folks at BEECHER'S HANDMADE CHEESE have done great things already—such as elevating cheese curds, a naturally occurring and very tasty by-product of fresh cheese making, into the realm of high-end finger food—but since they haven't even been around long enough to have aged a proper cheddar of their own, we have to conclude that the best is still to come. And if you've had Beecher's pure, creamy butter; their sharp, nutty jack cheese; or their deliciously subtle Blank Slate—a soft creamy concoction similar to a fromage blanc—you know what a delicious promise that is.
This fall Beecher's plans to unveil Flagship, their signature cheese. A semihard cheese with Swiss and cheddar characteristics, Flagship will be the first of many new products (a gorgonzola is in the works for the holiday season) to emerge as Beecher's catches up with its cheese makers, who have been at work cultivating additive-free artisan cheeses since before the store opened.
The additive-free qualifier is one of the most significant components in all of Beecher's offerings (of utmost importance, of course, are the wonderful flavors). Down to the ham used in the glorious grilled sandwiches served at lunchtime, there are no chemicals or preservatives in anything that Beecher's sells. The homemade French onion soup, the ridiculously sinful macaroni and cheese, even the other artisan cheeses that Beecher's carries—all of these are whole, unadulterated foods, and they are all of local origin, too. Beecher's owner Kurt Dammeier, whose investment firm has stakes in both Pasta & Co. and Pyramid Breweries, is committed to supporting the local economy. The milk used for all of Beecher's cheeses comes from a 700-cow farm in Duvall, and at a recent party celebrating the kickoff of Eight Weeks of Washington, a Northwest-centric celebration of all things edible (and drinkable), Dammeier announced that 1 percent of all of Beecher's sales will go to the new Flagship Foundation, an education program aimed at teaching children where their food comes from. As Dammeier is fond of telling tourists who overstay their welcome at the free cheese curd sampling bar, the cheese at Beecher's is so fresh that four days prior, it was grass. With its wall of windows looking into the vats that cook and cool the milk as it becomes cheese, Beecher's is setting a very fine example: The shorter the distance between production and fork the better—and the more delicious. 1600 Pike Place (in Pike Place Market), 206-956-1964.