Definition of Rogue Creamery: a proper noun for which there are no words to adequately describe.
Once upon a time, I visited a magical place where award-winning cheese is made from milk acquired between the autumn equinox and winter solstice, when cooler temperatures and rain bring renewed growth to the grass and cows’ milk is most rich and flavorful. A place so devoted to their craft all elements of it are lovingly controlled; from the grazing pastures along the banks of the Rogue River, to the temperature and humidity-controlled caves cheese is meticulously aged in.
There are so many vital and astonishing facets of the Rogue Creamery story I don’t know where to begin. I should probably start with what lured me into the Central Point cheese shop in the first place — the recently earned title of “World’s Best Cheese.” Won in Bergamo, Italy back in October, I knew they beat out 3,800 other cheeses from 42 different countries. So engaged was Southern Oregon by the victory, it was well-covered by local media outlets, and I became more and more curious how this little store front became the face of world-renowned cheese. The answer, I learned, was a combination of prolific history (the creamery opened in 1933), commitment to a sustainable and organic product (they are USDA Certified Organic), the willingness of every employee to go above and beyond, and the depth of passion for the art and science of cheesemaking.
Wait. There’s an art and science in cheesemaking? There certainly is. It’s called “affinage” and is the careful process of aging cheese. One reason Rogue River Blue Cheese is celebrated as “World’s Best” is due to this vigilant practice which, in tandem with the cave environment, is a series of ritualized procedures to develop flavor and texture. Such “cave management” is what sets Rogue Creamery apart. The cheese wheels are hand turned daily or weekly for the duration of the aging process (up to a year in the case of Rogue River Blue).
It’s important to note that this process isn’t dictated by a timer–there is no calendar deadline to signify it’s ready to sell. The cheese is ready when the team determines it looks right, smells right, feels right and tastes right. This team of hard-working people is what David Gremmels, President of Rogue Creamery, says he is most proud of, not the award. “The Rogue River Blue that we created to capture this title of world champion is a cheese that is truly touched by nearly everyone at Rogue Creamery,” he states.
In fact, so many hands are involved in making it, it’s no wonder he seems more Proud Papa, and less Commander-in-Chief. The “It Takes a Village ” motto is brought to a whole new level here as this special cheese goes through so many steps to achieve its final glory you forget just how many people are involved. Starting with the Cheese Master (apprentices go through a seven stage process to earn this title) who make the initial cheese curds that will be painstakingly drained and “knit” together into a wheel, and ending with the friendly shop clerk who rings up your order, there are countless folks in between who make Rogue River Blue Cheese absolutely live up to the hype.
Gremmels reminds us, “It really does take many talented individuals” and explains, “From hand-picking the organic Syrah grape leaves, to macerating them in a locally-made pear spirit, to creating the cheese with milk sourced from our Grants Pass dairy, to hand-wrapping each wheel in the pear-soaked leaves at our facility in Central Point, there are a host of talented local people on our team who are involved in the process from start to finish.”
It’s obvious Rogue River Blue is created from a passion and vision to encapsulate the flavors of Southern Oregon and offer the consumer a taste experience unlike any other. “If you close your eyes as you taste it, you can taste the landscape of the Rogue Valley and truly envision it” Gremmels says. I did taste it (multiple times) and I couldn’t agree more. When he describes the essence of his famed cheese, it’s not unlike a vintner describing wine, “The wonderful nut flavors come through that are reflective of Oregon hazelnuts and those wonderful Himalayan blackberry notes and huckleberry notes combine with local pears, and of course the flavorful grasses come through…”
I’d be lying if I said the “World’s Best Cheese” isn’t incredible and doesn’t melt in your mouth. But the thing I’ll take away most from my interaction with David Gremmels is his complete and utter devotion to the community. In a matter of minutes, you recognize his sincerity. What he wants people to know most about Rogue Creamery is that, “We are a company truly devoted to making a difference and having a positive impact in all that we do and we do that with cheese, using cheese as a force of good.” It’s safe to say I still can’t nail down an accurate definition of the awesomeness that is Rogue Creamery but I do know one thing: any place that uses cheese as a force of good is a winner in my book, award or no award.