The sky is azure blue and endless. Elegant pine trees splash green against the backdrop of copper-hued mountain peaks. A simple wooden sign reads: Juniper Grove Farm. Tucked on the eastern side of the Cascade Range in the heart of Central Oregon, Pierre Kolisch crafts classic, French-inspired goat cheese.

A pioneer in the Oregon cheese world, when Pierre Kolisch established Juniper Grove Farm in 1987, he was the state’s first artisanal goat cheese maker. Today, the state boasts close to 15 artisan goat cheese producers who craft everything from fresh, creamy chèvre to thoughtfully aged cheese.

“Pierre is definitely part of why Oregon has become such a cheese mecca,” says colleague Gianaclis Caldwell of Pholia Farm in Rogue River. He not only led the way, but inspired others, as well. In the past 10 years, Oregon has experienced a sort of cheese renaissance.

Sasha Davies, the author of The Guide to West Coast Cheese, remembers a 2006 cross-country tour she and her husband took for a project called Cheese by Hand: Discovering America One Cheese at a Time, visiting 45 American cheese makers.

“I think of Vermont as a state with a reputation for high-quality, beautiful handcrafted cheeses,” she says. After 2006, the impression that she left the Pacific Northwest with was that Oregon and Washington are really nipping at Vermont’s heels in that category. “Not only does Oregon have a lot of growth in cheese making, there are also people that are making really beautiful cheese,” she adds.

Kolisch was one of the first Oregon cheese makers to rise to the top nationally with his fresh and delicately ripened rounds, pyramids and log shaped buche cheeses—the latter noted for the straw of wheat running horizontally through the middle.

“We are a true farmstead,” says Kolisch. “Which means we start with the raw material, all of our milk comes from our own herd.” The quality of goat cheese starts with the basis of your milk. Since good milk is hard to find, building your own farm (and herd) is often the best option. “If your herd is healthy, you are going to have less problems from the standpoint of production,” says Kolisch.

The Juniper Grove Farm location is ideal for raising a healthy herd. The yearly precipitation is very low and the warm days and cool nights equate to excellent animal health. “From the animal husbandry perspective, the location is conducive to just about any animal,” adds Kolisch. He opted for goats as a new farmer because they are easier to handle and often sparkle with personality.

On any day, the character rings true. Nearby, bearded goats bleat in song, nibble on plants and frolic in the summer breeze. Curious eyes peek from long lashes and ears perk up at passersby. The robust herd, a mix of La Manchas, Saanen, Alpine and Toggenburg, graze the pastures surrounding the dairy year-round, and snack on high desert flora, tall grass and alfalfa.

“We also grow feed for our animals,” says Kolisch, who experiments with different types of hay from season to season. “I like making use of the land as best possible,” he says. An attorney turned farmer, Kolisch found his way to cheese making in the most riveting way.

“I was in the middle of a trek in the Himalayas and looking for something different to do,” he says. He fortuitously befriended a group from Switzerland, which inspired his next journey. “Then I got sidetracked in France,” he says. Call it kismet.

In France, he found his way to study cheese making in Normandy with master cheese maker Francois Durand, and also earned a degree at the National Dairy School in Poligny. The apprenticeship with Durand was life changing. “What struck me the most was his absolute unwavering commitment,” says Kolisch. A commitment to quality, land and tradition, all in the name of cheese.

Kolisch’s mentor was first and foremost a dairy farmer. “There was no tradition of cheese making in the family,” he says. The self-taught Durand is now an icon in his region. “He’s kind of a rebel,” says Kolisch of the Frenchman, now making headlines in publications ranging from The New York Times to NPR heralding him as the last dairy farmer in Normandy to be commercially making Camembert cheese in the traditional way.

“You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money and your time in cheese,” wrote chef Anthony Bourdain in his book Medium Raw. Whether it be romance or passion, the pursuit of cheese making is both an art and a science–even a lifestyle.

There is no typical day, says Kolisch. He can be found dressed in pristine whites, measuring and stirring in his cheese room one day, then off to markets the next. “I hope to get on a tractor this afternoon and clip some tall grass,” he says. Like his mentor, Kolisch is content in the community to be known as the local cheese maker.

He doesn’t enter cheese competitions and prefers the local markets to the larger cities. He enjoys his farm and his animals. As for the lifestyle, “I like the independence,” he says. The land his goats roam is rich with volcanic soils, the scent of sagebrush and mountain sunshine. These natural elements are found in the fruits from the farm–the fromage blanc, aromatic with fresh perennial herbs and garlic from the onsite herb garden; the Dutchman’s Flat, a mold ripened chèvre named after the snow-covered plain below Mt. Bachelor.

Similar to wine, cheese can have what the French call terroir, or a taste of place. The cheese Kolisch crafts is ritual, place and time–found only in Oregon.

Bruschetta of Juniper Grove Otentique, Tomatoes & Beans

Recipe from Greg Higgins, Higgins Restaurant and Bar

1 Loaf of levain or other country
style bread
3 Ripe heirloom tomatoes
sliced 3/8”
12 oz. Fresh pod beans
½ c. Basil leaves – chiffonade cut 1/8”
4 Garlic cloves – peeled
2 ea. Juniper Grove “Otentique” chevre
¼ c. Extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. Balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper to taste


Blanch the beans briefly in lightly salted boiling water – refresh immediately in cold water. Drain the cooled beans well. Thinly slice the garlic cloves and simmer in the olive oil. Pour the garlic and oil over the beans. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cut four thick slices of the levain and brush them with some of the garlic oil. Cut each of the “Otentique” cheeses into 4 slices of equal thickness. Arrange 3 slices of tomato onto each of four plates and season with salt and pepper – top with the marinated beans. Grill the bread over a barbecue until lightly charred and cut each slice in half diagonally – top each with a slice of the chevre and arrange them on top of the beans and tomatoes. Drizzle with the garlic oil from the beans and balsamic vinegar. Garnish each plate with basil chiffonade and freshly ground pepper.

Risotto of Tumalo Tomme & Walla Walla Sweets (serves 6)

Recipe from Greg Higgins, Higgins Restaurant and Bar

12 oz. Juniper Grove Tumalo Tomme - grated
2 Walla Walla sweet onions diced 3/8”
1 bunch Green onions – sliced 1/2“
2 Peeled shallots – 1/8” julienne
3 Cloves garlic – thinly sliced
1½ c. Arborio rice
4 T. Extra virgin olive oil
5 c. Vegetable stock
1 c. White wine
2 T. Lemon juice
Salt and Pepper to taste


Bring the stock and white wine to a simmer. In a large saucepan over medium heat sauté the rice, garlic, shallots and Walla Walla sweets in the olive oil for 3-5 minutes until the onions are just translucent. Add 2 cups of the hot stock and stir gently - allowing the rice to simmer. When most of the stock has been absorbed, add another 2 cups of stock and stir again – simmer until absorbed.

Stir in another 1½ cups of stock and taste – adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and begin to fold in the grated tomme. Gently stir and simmer until the risotto attains the desired texture. Fold in the lemon juice and most of the green onions. Remove from the heat and allow to set up for 2-3 minutes. Portion onto plates and garnish with remaining cheese and green onions.