Cheddar by the Sea

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written by Sophia McDonald | photos by Talia Galvin


For almost a century, Bandon was known for its delicious cheese. A proliferation of local dairies made it a natural place to create cheddar and other cheesy delights.

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In 2003, Bandon Cheese, the town’s last and largest cheesemaker, shut down. It left the southern Oregon coastal community without a dairy processor for the first time since the 1880s. Now, Bandon is making its way back onto the turophile’s map with Face Rock Creamery, which opened in 2013.

Although the business is new, it is wellknown in the community. Brad Sinko, head cheesemaker, is the son of Joe Sinko, the last local to own Bandon Cheese. The younger Sinko was managing the company when the Tillamook County Creamery Association (makers of Tillamook Cheese) bought it in 2000.

The buyout was friendly. Tillamook intended to keep Bandon Cheese open and make it their organic label. Then a new CEO came in, and plans changed. They shut down the cheese factory in 2003. Within a year, all physical signs of the business became intangible memories. “The building had been a cheese factory since the early 1900s and all of a sudden, it was gone,” Sinko said. “They literally tore it down and left a gravel parking lot.”

After that, Sinko spent three months consulting at a Guatemalan cheese factory. Near the end of his stint, he took a call from an entrepreneur in Seattle who wanted to start a cheese business but had no experience.

1859_Mar-Apr-2016_Farm-to-Table_Face-Rock-Creamery_Bandon_Talia-Galvin_008Sinko was the first employee at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and played a large role in its subsequent success. He invented Flagsheep, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that became the company’s flagship brand. Flagsheep won Best of Show from the American Cheese Society in 2012 and helped establish Beecher’s as a top brand in culinary circles.

Sinko was riding high from that victory when he got a call from someone with a familiar area code. Bandon businessmen Daniel Graham and Greg Drobot were interested in building a new cheese factory on the site of the old one. They asked for his opinion on their plans for Face Rock Creamery.

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Sinko said he was initially skeptical that the new cheese factory would be successful. As the young business grew, though, he continued to offer advice. Soon Sinko’s dad approached the new owners with a proposal—“ Offer Brad a job and see if he’ll take it,’” Sinko recalled of his father’s conversation. “They offered me less than I was making at Beecher’s … but I took it.”

As he walked past the gleaming stainless steel tables on Face Rock’s production floor, Sinko said he now understands why he came back for Face Rock Creamery. “When I got back here, you could see a new skip in people’s step,” Sinko said. “They were pretty happy to have a cheese factory again.”

During Face Rock’s first year, Sinko didn’t have any aged cheese, so he sent Vampire Slayer cheese curds to the American Cheese Society’s contest. They took first place in that category. The awards continue to pile up every year.

Face Rock’s cheddars are its most popular item. Each forty-pound block of cheese is aged for twelve to twenty-four months and hand flipped every day, said Sinko.

Face Rock is also known for its fromage blanc and produces cranberry honey, apricot honey and garlic olive-flavored cheese.1859_Mar-Apr-2016_Farm-to-Table_Face-Rock-Creamery_Bandon_Talia-Galvin_006

Many of these ingredients are sourced from local producers, and all of Face Rock’s milk all comes from one dairy farm, located fifteen miles away. In fact, the primary limiting factor of the company’s growth, Sinko said, is its dairy partner’s ability to expand with them.

Face Rock has even purchased more cows for the family-owned farm to increase its capacity.

Sue Hayes, chef and owner at Alloro Wine Bar and Restaurant in Bandon, is one of the locals who enjoys cooking with Face Rock Creamery cheese. She shared the restaurant’s recipe for au gratin potatoes, a hearty side dish that includes Face Rock cheddar cheese.

Executive chef AJ Voytko at Portland’s comfort food den, The Original, finds good use of Face Rock cheese curds by serving poutine alongside short ribs cooked in red wine. For dessert, The Original offers its spin on the traditional apple pie with a crumb and cheddar topping.

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