It would be achievement enough to be crowned Best Blue Cheese, but the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon did even better, winning Best of Show at the 26th annual American Cheese Society competition, which was held recently in Austin, TX. The blue cheese beat an astonishing 1,326 other entries in what is often billed as “the Super Bowl of cheese”.
Cowgirl Creamery, in Point Reyes, CA, took Second Place in the competition, for its superb Red Hawk washed-rind cheese.
Days before the win, we visited Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR, on our return from our road trip between San Francisco and Portland. We got a chance to chat with talented and passionate cheesemonger Tom Von Voorhees and to taste tons of special, hand-recommended cheeses.
The blues were indeed a highlight, and we had many generous samples. Choosing a favorite was immediately impossible — it was always the last cheese tasted. The Oregon Blue, made with raw milk, was robust, bright and creamy, with lots of wonderful classic roquefort taste. The Oregonzola was also very tasty and had a harder texture. If pressed, I’d say my favorite was the Crater Lake Blue, which was very creamy, with an even stronger and more complex blue flavor than the others.
They’ve all won their share of awards.
The new Caveman Blue, below, was also outstanding and flavorful and extremely creamy.
Along with the cheese tastes, we enjoyed splendid Carpenter Hill wine from the nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyard. We especially liked the Tango Red, a warm, fruity mix of merlot and cabernet, and bought some to take home. Syrah leaves from Carpenter Hill are used to wrap the Rogue River Blue for aging up to one year. Lee Mankin from Carpenter Hill explained how the Syrah leaves are macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy made from locally picked pears, so that the cheese is a complete example of local terroir. We moved to the cheese counter, where we got talking to Tom about all things life and cheese, and we never tasted the ACS award winner! Based on the array of Rogue Creamery blues, it has to be terrific. I can’t wait to try it.
We first tried the 4-year Noordhollander Gouda, which offered an extremely tasty mix of caramel sweetness and tangy bite, along with a wonderfully rich, crunchy texture.
We really enjoyed Pholia Farm’s Pleasant Creek and Covered Bridge goat cheeses, which are made locally in Rogue River, OR. Both had a superb, strong goat taste and, were we not traveling by car in a heat wave, we would have picked up a bunch. If you are lucky enough to live near Pholia Farm, they offer farm tours and cheesemaking classes.
From the Willamette Valley Cheese Co. in Salem, OR, comes this Perrydale cheese, a cow/sheep mix that was wonderfully sweet and delicately fruity.
We were very impressed with this raw-milk Emmenthaler from Edelweiss Creamery in Wisconsin. It had a terrific taste and is made the traditional way in huge copper vats.
I must mention that Rogue Creamery is also known for its cheddars. I was personally nearing my limit — Yes, there is one — so I didn’t cheddar up, but here’s a sampling, along with Rogue’s famous curds, which are very good, and the Caveman Blue.
We snapped up some curds and the hardest (hardiest) cheese for the journey, along with some Rustic Bakery crackers, which come from our home county of Marin. They are extremely tasty. We first encountered them at a local Wine and Gourmet event, and fell in love. Rustic’s flatbreads were originally created specifically to compliment the complex cheeses being produced by artisan creameries.
Rogue Creamery was started in the 1930s by Tom Vella, of Sonoma, CA’s Vella cheesemaking family. He learned blue-cheese-making techniques in Roquefort, France, and in 1957, produced the first cave-aged Blue Cheese west of the Missouri River.
I was very enamored with both the creamery and the picturesque Rogue River Valley and plan to return to sample other local artisan foods. Congratulations again, Rogue Creamery, on your most impressive win.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman