ACS Best of Show: Rogue River Blue
Their pursuit of perfection is relentless, but Cary Bryant and David Gremmels, co-owners of Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, have seen an immense payoff as a result: their signature Rogue River Blue just won its second ACS Best of Show top prize in three years.
The duo knew virtually nothing about cheesemaking back in 2002 when they purchased the company from a venerable California cheesemaker, the late Ig Vella. The creamery was founded in 1928 and acquired by Vella’s family in 1935; when the time came to pass the torch to a new generation, Vella, Bryant, and Gremmels sealed the deal with a simple handshake on the front porch.
As Gremmels jokes, “Cheese found us,” not vice versa. At the time, Bryant’s background was in microbiology and Gremmels’s strengths were in design and marketing, but both fostered an obsession for hard work and respected quality craftsmanship. Producing distinct, artisan blue cheeses provided an ideal outlet.
After Bryant and Gremmels took the helm, Rogue River Blue garnered initial recognition with a historic win at the 2003 World Cheese Awards in London. It marked the first time an American blue cheese bested European entries for the title, and the triumph proved prophetic for Rogue Creamery’s remarkable future success. In fewer than ten years, consummate dedication and extreme attention to detail by these cheesemakers have turned Rogue River Blue into one of the most prestigious and coveted blue cheeses in the world.
Most creameries would be hard-pressed to do a blue better than Rogue’s, praised by judges as “a work of art.” Respectfully honoring Vella’s original recipe from Roquefort, France, with key enhancements by the current owners, the limited-production cheese is a beautiful, natural reflection of southern Oregon terroir.
Each five-pound (2.2 kg) Rogue River Blue wheel is crafted using only autumnal equinox milk from Brown Swiss and Holsteins grazing during a six-week window. This condensed supply provides “superior butterfat proteins and solids” to the finished product, thanks to the lush, high-elevation grasses, wild herbs, and flowers the cows enjoy.
Aged in specially constructed caves, the cheese ripens for over a year, enhanced by naturally occurring molds found in the Rogue River Valley. The cheesemakers commission Syrah wine-grape leaves from Carpenter Hill Vineyard in nearby Medford, which are macerated in locally distilled Clear Creek Pear Brandy, wrapped around the cheese, and secured with raffia. The result is a true taste of Oregon’s landscape, with an entirely edible rind.
“We’re so proud [that] this cheese has won the ACS yet again, distinguishing the growing desire for complex flavor in our industry,” Gremmels says. “We take this award home with great pride and celebrate it with everyone who has participated in it. If there ever was a cheese that represents a terroir in North America, it would be Rogue River Blue.”
Written by Christine Darragh
Photograph by Kate Arding