Portland Creamery

Portland Creamery

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Tami Parr  To make good cheese, you need good-quality milk. Portland Creamery founder Liz Alvis was well aware of this when she started the company in Portland, Oregon, in 2011 — her mother, Jean Mackenzie, owns the award-winning Mackenzie Creamery in Hiram, Ohio. When Alvis went looking for milk, she found one of the best dairy goat herds in the nation about 35 miles south of Portland at Tempo Farm near Molalla.  

Goat world veterans are probably already familiar with Lauren Acton and her Tempo herd of Saanens, Alpines, and La Manchas. The Acton family started the historic des Ruhigestelle Saanen herd in the 1960s. Lauren later took over the herd and combined it with her own Alpines and La Manchas under the Tempo Farm umbrella. Since then, Acton, a veterinarian (now retired), has focused on breeding and showing her elite herd. Over the decades, the goats have won hundreds of awards, including multiple grand champions, best in breed, and best in show honors in competitions across the country.  

Like many dairy goat breeders, Acton used the milk from her herd for personal use or feeding goat kids and dumped the rest. She says that although she never had any desire to start a cheesemaking operation herself, the partnership with Portland Creamery opened up the perfect way to channel the milk supply.  

Acton says two important qualities make the best milk for cheesemaking. The first is the components — the protein and butterfat composition of the milk. “But even more important is cleanliness. You need to keep the milk free from bacteria and other contamination to make good cheese.” The small Portland Creamery cheesemaking room is on the farm, just steps away from the milking parlor. The short trip from the milk room to the pasteurizing vat minimizes handling and keeps the milk quality pristine.  

Fresh cheeses can tell you a lot about the milk from which they are made. Portland Creamery’s flagship plain chevre reveals the outstanding milk that goes into the product — it’s beautifully light, creamy, and just a bit tart and lemony. In addition to plain chevre, the company has also developed a variety of rich and complex flavor profiles. Seasonally available flavors include cranberry orange, tarragon mustard, and blueberry lemon. One of the most intriguing of the company’s flavored chevre line is Oregon Truffle, crafted with truffle oil made from Oregon truffles. The oil is produced by local partner Joel Palmer House, a historic restaurant located in the Willamette Valley. 

Since Portland Creamery does not have a dedicated aging facility, their product line centers on fresh styles of cheese. They also put their whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking, to work in a line of flavored syrups. Cheesemakers cook down the whey with sugar into a caramelly syrup and then blend it with a variety of flavors, including Spiced Vanilla, Ginger Turmeric, and Vanilla Rose. The result is a sweet, honey-like nectar that can be used for pancakes, a sweetener for tea or other beverages, and as a glaze for roasted meats or root vegetables. Plans underway to produce a bourbon barrel whey syrup in partnership with a local distillery.  

Oregon cheese industry veteran Shawn Fels purchased Portland Creamery from Liz Alvis in 2018 and runs the company today along with CEO Emily Davidson. The onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020 was a big setback for the company, as it was for cheese producers across the country. “About 60% of our business pre-COVID was from restaurants,” says Davidson. “With the shutdowns, we immediately lost those customers.” Add to the mix the wildfires raging through Oregon’s Willamette Valley in fall 2020.The destructive Beachie Creek Fire burned within half a mile of Tempo farm, forcing Acton and her husband, John Wright, to evacuate themselves and the goats. While the farm was thankfully spared, Portland Creamery was forced to shut down for several weeks. 

Davidson says the company has adapted to adversity in a variety of ways. Among the innovations is an expanded product line. The creamery recently began producing feta as the result of a fortuitous accident when too much rennet was accidentally added to a batch of chevre. Since feta is aged in brine, the creamery has taken advantage of that process by putting its milk in the bank, so to speak, aging the feta until customers are ready to buy it. The creamery now makes feta regularly during spring and summer when the milk supply is at its peak.  

Another popular new product is squeaky cheese curds. While you might be familiar with cheese curds made from cow milk, curds made from goat milk are less common. Goat milk cheese curds are bright white (like goat milk) and have the same addictive salty squeakiness as cow milk curds. The curds have become a customer favorite and are now sold seasonally both online and at the company’s Portland Farmers Market booth. 

2023 marks Portland Creamery’s twelfth year of business, and the company is emerging from the challenges of the past few years stronger and more focused than ever. “We see the local economy improving, and restaurants are starting to reopen. We know we can expand beyond where we were a couple of years ago,” says Davidson. The possibilities are endless with an improving business climate and an exceptional milk supply. 

Originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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