Summer is road-trip season, so we're taking a culinary tour of America. But because Portland is a city of immigrants from other states, we don't have to leave town to do it. We're traveling to 50 Portland restaurants to try one distinctive food from each state. Our 50 Plates tour continues with Maytag blue cheese from Iowa, which joined the union on December 28, 1846.
The state: Located in what is known as the "The Heartland," Iowa has a lot going for it. There are hogs, small-town football teams and lots of corn—though you'd probably rather visit the birthplaces of Michelle Bachman and Ashton Kutcher for a handful of reasons that include the Iowa Writer's Workshop, elephant ears at the Iowa State Fair and The Field of Dreams.
The food: Acclaimed by some as America's finest blue cheese, the Maytag's first "wheels" were made in 1941 at Maytag Dairy Farms in Newton, Iowa. The cheese is made with homogenized cow's milk, instead of sheep's milk, as found in cheeses like Roquefort, using a technique developed by Iowa State University. The Maytag dairy still uses that method today, hand making it in small batches from fresh Iowa milk before aging it for months so that its texture becomes and dense, crumbly, and its taste sharp, tart and pungent.
Other dishes considered and rejected: Pork steak, lemon crisps, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, corn salad, Iowa Maid-Rites (also called "loose-meat sandwiches" which are, essentially, Iowa's version of a "sloppy-joe") and the bologna salad sandwich.
Get it from: Cheese Bar (6031 SE Belmont St., 222-6014, cheese-bar.com) where the Maytag Blue stands out from the rest—not just because of its delectability, but also because the owner of the bar, Steve Jones, has a particular affinity for the cheese. It just so happens his father used to work at the Maytag Dairy Farms in Iowa. "It really is a point of state pride," he swooned. And for good reason. For a $12.85, you get a quarter pound of the tart Maytag Blue, a small serving of sweet fruit chutney, a few slices of crisp baguette and a glass of "Domaine de L'Idylle, 'Cruet,' a refreshing white from Savoie, France—because Iowa hasn't yet developed a wine worthy of this creamy block.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.