If one needed any proof, the recent—and very well-deserved—success of American cheeses at the World Cheese Awards competition in Birmingham, UK, bears testament to the meteoric rise of artisanal cheesemaking in the United States over recent years.
The last two decades have seen a remarkable rise both in the number of people embarking on a career in cheesemaking as well as the number of cheeses produced. This fact is borne out in the crucibles of various cheese competitions with huge increases in the number of entries submitted each year. Not only that, but the quality and consistency of the cheeses is constantly improving too.
Today's competition and record entry of 2,785 cheeses for the 2012 World Cheese Awards was first whittled down to 55 cheeses that qualified for the prestigious award of Super Gold. Among them were (hurrah!) three cheeses from American cheesemakers: Baetje Farms, Jasper Hill and Rogue Creamery, with the latter two (with Harbison and Rogue River Blue) making it through to the final round of judging of only sixteen cheeses.
Rogue Creamery also went on to win Best American Cheese, with David Gremmels present to receive the award (see picture).
I heard this morning with great sadness that Ig Vella of Vella Cheese (and the original owner of Rogue Creamery) died last night. One of the few elder statesmen in the evolution of both Californian cheese and the American artisanal cheese movement, Ig will be sorely missed for his incredible knowledge and perspective—not to mention his unique personality.
My first encounter with Ig was shortly after I moved to California from London, when I went to visit his cheesemaking facility in Sonoma. Upon arrival I was met by a large-framed, unsmiling man dressed in what I later learned were his trademark red suspenders and slightly-too-small paper hat. I was immediately intrigued – and smitten!
For any cheese fans in the Pacific Northwest, don’t forget the 7th Annual Oregon Cheese Festival will be held this Saturday March 19th, 2011 at Rogue Creamery, Central Point, Oregon.
I was just talking with Tami Parr, one of the Festival’s organizers and here is what she says:
“This year's festival promises to be bigger and better than ever - literally! A bigger tent, more vendors and cheese celebrities will be on hand to ring in the seventh year of this festival celebrating all things Oregon cheese.
In attendance will be Oregon cheesemakers from Willamette Valley Cheese Co., Pholia Farm, Tumalo Farms, Rogue Creamery and many more, all sampling and selling their handmade cheeses. The farmer's market style event will also host local purveyors of all sorts of delectable treats including wine, beer, breads and chocolate. The fun, informal setting encourages attendees to meet the people who make the cheeses they've come to love.