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(Image: Richard Schmitz)

For the love of cheese at Monteillet Fromagerie in Walla Walla Valley

Mother Nature keeps us on our toes during spring in the Pacific Northwest. Yet, one sure sign of the season is the birthing of baby goats and sheep. And no one knows this better than Pierre-Louis and Joan Monteillet of Monteillet Fromagerie, a quaint artisan farm located on the eastern side of our fair state in Dayton in the Walla Walla Valley.

The fromagerie sits on the banks of the Touchet River, expanding over 32 acres of farmland where a vibrant combination of work and life synthesizes into a natural lightness of being.

"This way of life is a lifestyle," comments Pierre-Louis, guiding us over a pasture to where his 50 French Alpine Goats and 50 Lacaune Sheep are awaiting their evening alfalfa hay. For over 20 years, the Monteillets have been the masterminds, chefs, and pioneers of this farming ecosystem centered around their artisanal cheese.

Where it all started

Their journey to becoming artisanal cheesemakers started decades ago with a chance encounter.

It was 1978 and Joan, a third-generation Walla Walla wheat farmer's daughter, headed off to Oaxaca, Mexico in exploration of art and culture. Pierre-Louis was also exploring the area with its many ancient ruins.

Boy meets girl, sharing an authentic Mexican dinner and some dancing in the central plaza. They exchanged addresses but went their separate ways. For Joan, that meant back to Walla Walla where six weeks later, Pierre-Louis surprised her by showing up at her workplace. He'd spent the last three days hitchhiking from Texas to Walla Walla. A fairytale story that began their odyssey of creating a life together.

The first sixteen years of their life as a couple were spent wheat farming on the family farm just outside of Walla Walla. In 2001, they ventured into a new passion and way of life: cheesemaking. The Monteillets have not stopped since.

"We are evolving all the time," says Pierre-Louis, reflecting over the years.

The Cheeses

All of the cheeses are handcrafted using traditional techniques inspired by the area Pierre-Louis grew up in, the Roquefort region of France.

The cheese itself is a lovely combination of melt-in-your-mouth creaminess with just a tinge of tartness. A blend of sheep (⅓) and goat (⅔) milk.

Joan explains, "Sheep milk is high in butterfat content making for a luscious creaminess."

Their base chevre makes a wonderful stand-alone spread but also lends itself to many flavorful varieties. Try the Provencal, which is steeped in olive and truffle oil mixed with fresh rosemary from the Monteillet garden, finished with pepper berries and slices of garlic. Great on warm bread or for dipping. The wide selection of cheeses at the fromagerie includes a Brie-style wheel, Mozzarella, Ricotta, and even a few hard kinds of cheese.

The Farm

Everything about the farm is quintessentially French. Even their guest house, the Gite, meaning "holiday home" in French, is no exception. A stay in this craftsman-style, three-bedroom holiday house offers guests a chance to learn what an agrarian lifestyle is all about. Wake up to a breathtaking view of the river, then while the coffee percolates, scour the refrigerator for fresh eggs, milk, seasonal vegetables, and, of course, cheese to create a country-style breakfast.

Reside in the Gite while learning the trade of cheesemaking, for there are several one- and two-day classes offered by Joan. Finish up the day with a complimentary cheese and wine tasting while the sun sets over the fields. And much like the varietals of wine grown in the Walla Walla Valley, the cheeses from Monteillet Fromagerie capture the terroir of this region.

Pierre-Louis states, "We try to capture the taste of the land in the same way Old World vintners craft their wines."

They pair pretty nicely, too.

Monteillet Fromagerie is located at 109 Ward Road in Dayton. Contact them to schedule a tour, pick-up, or a stay in the Gite.

MaryRose Denton is a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. While the products, services and/or accommodations in this story were provided without charge, the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.