TROUT LAKE'S CHEESE HERITAGE
Cheese making was important in the early development of Trout Lake's dairy industry and today, almost 125 years after cheese was first made in the Trout Lake valley, Cascadia Creamery continues this tradition with its unique local artisan cheese handcrafted in small batches from local, raw, organic milk.Below is an excerpt from the Trout Lake Valley Cookbook, produced by the Trout Lake Community Club. Copyright © 2005. Reprinted here with permission. Facts compiled from Esther Schmid and Cheryl Mack.
Joseph Aerni managed a dairy farm in Switzerland before coming to the United States. The Aerni family moved to the valley in 1885 when there were only five other families living here. Mr. Aerni owned two cows when he arrived and bought 13 others that he paid for by giving back calves as they were born. Mr. Aerni built the first small cheese factory in the basement of his home and was soon known as a very good Swiss cheese maker. Other farmers built cheese factories in their homes, and a good market for their product developed.
Around 1888, Elizabeth and Joshua Aerni discovered the Lava (Cheese) Cave while they were herding cattle on the open range south of their father's farm. Peter Schmid, who later married Elizabeth Aerni, was the first man to go into the cave. A large group of settlers met at the entrance hole to watch Peter descend on a 90-foot rope and to hold burning pitch sticks over the entrance so that Peter could see better. Everyone was excited and eager to learn what the Aerni children had found. The cave became a popular place for community picnics and was one of the local sights to show visitors. Some of the shelves that were used for storing cheese are still in the cave.
In 1902 the farmers decided to form a cooperative to replace the many small cheese factories they had on their homesteads. Henry Huber was the first president and William Coate was secretary. The cooperative was called the "Trout Lake Dairy Association" and continued for the next 25 years until 1927. At first only cheese was made in this co-op factory, but later butter became the important product. Old Creamery Road is named after this factory, whose buildings are still standing.
Even before other settlers arrived in the valley, Peter Stoller had found the Butter Cave and was using it for storing butter during the heat of the summer and fall. He had a market for his butter at a hotel in The Dalles, Oregon. As other settlers came to the valley, they too began to use the cave for butter storage.
The butter was packet in 100-pound kegs, called "firkins", for storage in the cave. On June 1, 1890, Charles Pearson wrote in his diary, "Took first barrel of butter up to the cave for this season."
Butter was hauled to The Landing in Bingen, Washington and shipped to market by boat only when it was cool enough to transport without melting. It was cut into shape and wrapped in white butter paper. Later on, settlers used molds to shape the butter.
On October 27, Charles Pearson recorded, "Went to Aernis and Stollers to borrow a butter bow. Fixed up some butter boxes and worked butter 220 pounds." The next day he worked up 340 pounds of butter and planned to ship it to The Dalles. However, when he hauled the butter to The Landing on October 30, Mr. Hunsaker saw him and purchased all of it. The Hunsakers became a reliable market outlet for valley butter, as did a hotel in Portland, Oregon and a hotel in The Dalles.
The settlers were paid 15 cents for a pound of butter. The sale of butter and cheese was the settlers' main source of income.