I have a long and storied history with Portland. I grew up in a small town just 30 miles outside of the city so a good portion of my teen years were spent doing anything I could to hang out there. The nineties were a fun time to be in Portland. The grunge scene had put a spotlight on the Pacific Northwest and Portland had a minor glow from Seattle's success. Music and art was a plenty. I left for a few years, looking for somewhere to call home, but nothing sat with me as well as Portland did. I moved back and spent nine years watching the city change and while I still love it there, it's not home for me anymore. The city is almost unrecognizable in certain areas and things I loved about it are slowly dying. I had a first hand view of it and I couldn't watch the city I love being changed so much. It's one of the main reasons I left. I know that Seattle has had huge changes also but it can be a bit easier to take when you don't have such a strong emotional connection to the past. There are times when it's hard to visit Portland because of the change and then there are times where I'm reminded of why I still love that city. One of the reasons I love going home is because the cheese game in Portland is quite strong and it's in large part to the empire that Steve Jones has created with Cheese Bar, Chizu, and his newest venture The Cheese Annex at Common's Brewery. I used to live within walking distance to Cheese Bar and it was one of my favorite places to hang out. Steve has impeccable taste so not only are his cheese selections top notch but his beer and wine selections are amazingly rich and diverse. I may not drink anymore but I still can see the talented palate that Steve has. I had made a stop at Cheese Bar and the Annex last week when I was in town but knowing I would be in town again the next week, I contacted my friend Dave Selden (owner of 33 Books) to see if he would join me for a trip to Chizu.
Find Dave's awesome tasting journals at 33 Books.
Chizu is more of a concept than Cheese Bar which is exactly what the name implies, a bar with cheese. Chizu has taken Japanese style elements and applied them to a cheese plate. You can order by the piece or you can give the mongers a price and they will give you a plate omakase style. The fun of a place like this is all about the mongers. I left it up to them to provide us with a plate of things that were new and tasting fantastic right now.
Sarah and Madilyn, the mongers, really hit the nail on the head. They gave me some old favorites that I hadn't had in quite some time, Viegadarte, Paesanella, and Quadrello di Bufala, but they pulled out some show stoppers I hadn't yet tried, Saulnois, Carbicharme, and Heublumen. They even tasted us on the Chiriboga blue with some dried Oregon Bing cherries. (Confession time, I'm not a huge blue cheese fan. I'm coming around but it's not really my first choice. This combo though was a delight!) My personal favorite, the Carbicharme. The texture was perfect, the flavor was sweet, creamy, and just the perfect amount of funk to get your tastebuds dancing. Add in the house spiced nuts, Girl Meet Dirt Shiro Plum with Mint spoon preserves, Meadowfoam Honey, and a few dried fruit and any cheese fanatic would be satiated.
Steve has been working his fingers to the bone but there seems to be no signs of stopping him. He is going to continue bringing great cheese to the masses in Portland in as many ways as he can.
For cheese plates and bottled beer:
Chizu 1126 SW Alder St Portland, OR 97205
For a proper cheese counter,small plates, and a vast array of beer and wine:
Cheese Bar 6031 SE Belmont St Portland, OR 97215
For nibbles while you drink:
Cheese Annex at Common's Brewery 630 SE Belmont St Portland, OR 97214