Chehalis Dairy Punches Holes in Popular Perception of Swiss

Many Swiss families have a tradition: they make a wheel of cheese when a child is born and then wait to eat it until that child is married. Sharon McCool, organic Swiss cheesemaker in Chehalis, hasn’t been in the business that long yet, but she does have a four and a half-year-old wheel of cheese that she and her husband Gary plan to crack into when they finish building their new house.

Want in on that? Whether you fancy herbs and garlic or caraway in your Swiss, the McCools can fix you up—all the while educating you that yes, Swiss comes in different flavors, and no, it needn’t have holes.

Dairy farmers for 30 years, Sharon and Gary McCool started farming in Oregon and have been in Chehalis at Rosecrest Farm since 2000. They produce milk for Organic Valley and started making cheese five years ago.

“Things are so hard for dairy farmers that you need to find another avenue, and cheese seems like the most logical thing,” says Sharon McCool. The McCools decided on Swiss after meeting a Swiss (as in, from Switzerland) Swiss cheesemaker in Oregon who was retiring and ready to sell his equipment. He even threw in some recipes, including his 200-year-old Mountain Swiss.

Several years later, the McCools are happy with Swiss because of its niche market, and the chance to
educate consumers on the difference between Swiss style Swiss cheese (theirs) and American Swiss. While a Swiss Swiss ages only in a cold cave (for at least 60 days and then as long as one wants), a typical American Swiss goes in a hot cave first, which makes the fluffy trademark holes we know, and also processes faster.

In the McCools’ Swiss cheese, “the holes are much smaller, sometimes there are none, but the flavor is much better,” McCool says.

Find this cheese at the Space Needle restaurant, Fairmont Olympic Hotel, and Portage Bay Café, as well as at the McCools’ store at Rosecrest Farm and at select farmers markets. Currently Sharon McCool sells at Ballard Farmers Market on Sundays and at the Proctor Market in Tacoma on Saturdays. She will also be at the Chehalis, Wallingford, and Madrona Markets when they open this spring.

Sharon regularly brings four flavors to market—a good number for consumers to sample and process without being overwhelmed. Be you willing, she’ll offer you the whole range, with serving suggestions as she goes. Country Herb and Garlic, the most popular, is good with pasta and salads; Smokie Peppercorn and Chives goes well with scrambled eggs and fettuccini; Caraway makes a killer grilled cheese; and Mountain Swiss is ideal in scalloped potatoes and mac ‘n cheese.

Finally, if you want to test the Swiss belief of the older, the better with cheese, Sharon will tell you how to age the cheese longer in your fridge at home. If you care for it well, she says, it can go indefinitely, getting better and better “until you just can’t stand it!” she says, and dig in.

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