Tripping with Cheese: Part 2
Face Rock Creamery
In my previous column, I made the observation that as one travels north in California, the distance between food and everyday life is reduced. Once the California-Oregon border is reached, it seems like there is no longer that separation. What we call “rural living” in Southern California is just “living” along the northern California and southern Oregon coastline. Life seems imbued with a sense of knowledge about where the food is gathered and who gathers it, and there is a general sense of responsibility for the land and other resources that provide this sustenance. There seems to be an understanding that the land will always give back if we treat it responsibly.
With that in mind, Face Rock Creamery in Bandon, Oregon, and the creameries I found later in Marin and Sonoma County, California all seem to embody that connection with the natural resources surrounding their immediate geographic areas. The Oregon coastline is no exception. Running along the city of Coos Bay—about 25 miles north of Bandon—is a network of sluices that support the logging industry—at one time claimed to be the largest lumber shipping port in the world—and the mountains of wood chips at the north end of town are evidence of the remaining sawmills. Charleston, a town that sits at the southwest entrance of Coos Bay proper, is where you go to get oysters and clams, and the mountains of shucked shells at the west end of the Cape Arago Highway drawbridge—as well as the three mom and pop restaurants claiming to have the best clam chowder—are evidence of a struggling seafood industry. Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston has fresh fish, clams and oysters, and you have to arrive early in the day before they sell out. But it’s worth the 12-mile trip from Coos Bay.
Bandon is a city at the mouth of the Coquille River, and its historic Oldtown is a tourist-centered experience with fishing and crabbing boats lining its harbor. It’s reminiscent of San Francisco’s Pier 39, but moves more slowly. Maybe there’s just something more pleasant about the experience when you can get free parking. Like Pier 39, it has boutique shops, restaurants, bars and of course, a couple of places where you can eat freshly caught crab. But unlike Pier 39, Bandon has a rum distillery Stillwagon and because of the three-year-old Face Rock Creamery, it boasts some world-class cheese.
As the north 101 veers to the right after the Bandon city signage, Face Rock Creamery is a beige-trimmed, remodeled two-story building across the street from the Oldtown. You can’t miss it. The creamery has everything you need in a cheese-centric experience—it is a fully functional cheesemaking facility open 9-6 all week in the town’s historic cheese factory building. Not only can visitors sample and purchase Face Rock’s award-winning jacks, cheddars and curds, but they can also watch cheese being made behind the glass. During my most recent trip to their facility, they were actually making cheese, and as families would pass by the glass and make comments, in true new-to-the-hobby style, I would explain the cheesemaking process to them. Most appreciated this knowledge; others just wanted to get back to sampling more cheese.
The boutique store sells wine, beer, deli meats and cheese-related kitchen gadgets slicers, knives and boards. Within their shop space, there is an extremely popular ice cream counter, a deli counter for sandwiches and light fare and of course, a real cheesemonger’s counter featuring their own clothbound aged cheddars, along with some pretty nice international, national and regional cheeses from Oregon, California and Washington. There isn’t a better selection of fine cheese for more than a hundred miles in either direction. And for the parent who wants to get away from the tourist bustle, there is a very small, 21-and-up-only craft beer tap area that you can find if you sneak around behind the ice cream counter you’re welcome.
Like the Loleta Cheese Factory in Loleta, California, Face Rock’s focus seems to be flavored jacks and aged cheddars sold in 8 oz bricks. They have some interesting flavor combinations: pizza it’s orange-red, cranberry walnut it’s purple, and various pepper varieties. The local favorite—well, the one I hear my sister and her Oregon friends talk about all of the time—is Vampire Slayer, a garlic-saturated cheddar. There is also Super Slayer, which includes a garlic and pepper combination. The cheese is powerfully addictive, and I doubt even a vampire would be able to resist it.
Another local favorite are the cheese curds, which are made in bulk and flavored similarly to the cheddars, using variations of garlic and pepper. “Curds” of course are pieces of cheese taken off the line before they’re pressed into cheddar blocks, but instead are just salted and eaten. When you eat them, the rubbery consistency left there by the rennet and acid buildup during the cheddaring process cause them to “squeak” on your teeth as you chew them. If they don’t squeak, you’re not eating fresh curds.
Their flagship aged cheddars—two- and three-year especially—are great all-around sharp cheddars, robust, creamy and nicely balanced. Of course they’re white because we all know that the orange coloring of commercial cheddar comes from Annatto dye, and Face Rock does not use that additive on its cheddars. The clothbound cheddar, cave-aged in a traditional manner and wrapped in food-grade gauze that creates the rind, is done in both a plain variety version and a version with fresh peppercorns. Both have the complex, slightly acidic and sharp flavor you’d expect with a natural-rind hard cheese. That flavor and the crumbly and crunchy texture one would expect in an aged cheese put these clothbound cheddars on a par with another very famous clothbound I’ve tasted.
Face Rock may only be three years old but they’re partnered with The Scolari Family Dairy, a local dairy that supplies them with milk, and they’ve already positioned themselves to be available in Southern California at Bristol Farms and some Costco stores. It looks like they want to be a brand that sits in a similar market position and shelf area where you might find Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and Kerrygold. There is something magical about tasting a food that is made with resources from the area, and Face Rock’s popularity is a testament to the quality of small, handmade operations, and the public’s desire to link the food they eat with a place and the people who make it.
Face Rock Creamery
680 2nd St Se On Hwy 101
Bandon, OR 97411
Hours: 9-6, Monday-Sunday