American Cheese Society Best of Show 2012: Beecher’s Flagsheep

Beecher's Flagsheep, Seattle Washington - Best of Show 2012

From the green, spring hills of Vermont to the damp, foggy coast of Marin county, this trip around award-winning creameries in the United States as taken us to nearly every corner. But while we have explored a couple of cheeses from Wisconsin, a few from California, and even one from Indiana, there was not a Best of Show winner from the state of Washington until 2012.

But this win, although certainly worth a celebration, is not the only thing that is unique about the creamery known as Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. Beecher’s cheesemaking process doesn’t take place in an isolated facility far afield from modern life.

Instead, Beecher’s cheeses are made in a storefront in Seattle’s world-famous Pike Place Market.

According to creamery founder, Kurt Beecher Dammeier, he chose to make his cheeses here so that the public could actually see the process. “It’s our way of reminding people that food made in traditional ways with simple, authentic ingredients really are the best,” he says. It is at this Seattle location that Kurt and his team of cheesemakers first concocted Flagsheep.

This mixed milk cheese is made from a blend of cow and sheep’s milk. By adding sheep’s milk from Willapa Hills Cheese, another Washington creamery, to the recipe for Beecher’s signature Flagship cheese, Kurt hoped to add an earthy, sweet flavor that could play off of the buttery notes of the cow’s milk.Beecher's Flagsheep, Seattle Washington - Best of Show 2012

The recipe was partially inspired by his love for Bellwether Farms San Andreas sheep’s milk cheese. Flagsheep follows a traditional cheddar recipe with an added Swiss culture, then is cave-aged for around 18 months and bandaged with muslin, helping it to slowly release moisture and concentrate flavor. The resulting cheese is earthy and complex with the typical cheddar bite and the noticeable sweetness from the sheep milk.

Of course, having your cheesemaking facility located in downtown Seattle means that you can’t exactly keep a herd of cows on-site. Instead, Beecher’s gets their milk from local dairy farmers with humane and sustainable practices, whose animals are never treated with growth hormones. The milk is shipped in fresh seven days per week to act as the base for the range of cheeses Beecher’s offers.

Of the win in 2012, Kurt says ,“We were not anticipating it and were just extremely excited and proud. The cheesemaker who actually made that wheel of Flagsheep happened to be at the event, Dan Utano, so it was especially fun for him.” With the pleasing flavor profile and overall commitment to healthy and natural foods, the win for Flagsheep certainly means a nod of approval for all the company’s hard work.

In terms of serving Flagsheep, it is best eaten pretty much any way you choose including sneaking slices over the kitchen sink. Kurt himself enjoys Flagsheep with a crusty baguette alongside “salty Castelvetrano olives and quince paste.” He recommends pairing with a wheaty ale such as Pyramid’s Hefeweizen or a smooth red, such as an aged Syrah.

As with most creameries on the list of winners, the win at ACS meant an increase in demand for Flagsheep. This year, Beecher’s plans to make around 6,000 pounds of the cheese, which is double the amount it made last year. If you can get your hands on some – at your favorite cheese shop or straight from the source at Beecher’s Seattle, SETAC, or the recently opened Beecher’s NYC in the Flatiron district — you’ll find it’s impossible to disagree with Kurt on one point: “Flagsheep is like candy. Assume you’ll be going back for seconds.”