Word of Mouth

Portland's High Priest of the Cheese Counter Offers Her Top Fromage Tips

Meet Katie Eshleman, your cheese consigliere.

By Karen Brooks December 21, 2018 Published in the January 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Karen Brooks

In simple terms, Katie Eshleman is the store manager of Pastaworks, the boutique grocer inside Northwest’s venerable City Market. But to regulars, she is the high priest of the fromage counter, ruling over one of Portland’s most impressive collections—150 wheels strong, its quality rivaled only by Southeast’s geeky Cheese Bar. Care and candor galore are Katie signatures, plus she cuts everything to order (a rarity these days). Essentially, she’s your cheese consigliere. Convos with customers go like this: “You know, it’s kind of stinky, footy, like ass.” Or, “Do you actually like the people coming over? Maybe they’re nice, but [they] don’t get the $30-a-pound cheese.” Or, “You need this! You just need it.” Trust her, you really do. I’m totally part of the Katie cult. When I arrive, on a twice-weekly basis, I just say: “Tell me what to buy.” The system hasn’t failed yet. Here’s what I gleaned on a recent visit.

Just Eat It

L’Amuse Brabander (Holland goat gouda) “It’s a meal in itself, all flavor. You don’t need anything with it. Just put it in your mouth.”

Üsi Minnie (Swiss raw cow’s milk) “Everyone talks about ‘umami.’ Well, this is it ... that bone-brothy meatiness. A little salty. So, so good.”

Ossau Iraty Montagne (Basque raw sheep’s milk) “My no. 1 cheese right now. It has everything: it’s creamy and milky at first, then salty, then meaty, then a little sweetness and barnyard flavor. The milk is literally cooked over wood fire in a hut on a mountainside. It’s all about the milk.

Break Your Goat Cheese Rut

Leonora (Spanish aged goat’s cheese) “Amazing across the board—not too strong; creamy on the outside, chalky in the middle (in the best way), with a lemony tang. So good on a bagel.”

Fail-Safe Cheese Plate Formula

Choose one triple crème (“Brillat-Savarin is always a crowd-pleaser, decadent and unctuous.”), one aged gouda (“Stompetoren is rich and buttery, with butterscotch, whiskey, and hazelnut notes. What’s not to like? People adore the little salt crystals running throughout.”), and one nice blue (“Bleu des Causses is easy to love, creamy and spreadable, with a sweetness that offsets the sharpness. People think it’s Roquefort.”)

A Blow-Your-Mind Cheese Hack

“You want something out of this world? Try eating Roquefort with French butter. Just those two things. Eat a little of each with every bite. It’s an amazing marriage. Amazing.”

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