It’s wonderful to discover, and rediscover, a gem in your backyard. While attending the Seafood and Wine Festival last weekend in Newport, Oregon, I had the pleasure of rediscovering the amazing artisan cheeses of Oregon’s own Rogue Creamery.
Located in the Willamette Valley, Rogue’s cows graze in pastures that sit at 1,650-foot elevation along the Rogue River. The creamery was opened in the 1930s by Tom Vella and originally produced cheddar. According to their website, they produced 1 million pounds for four years running during WWII to ship to troops. After an enlightening trip to France in the 1950s, the creamery began to produce the first blue cheese produced in caves west of the Missouri River.
The creamery currently handcrafts a variety of cheeses from raw, certified sustainable, rBST-free milk -- cheddars from delicate rosemary to spicy habanero, and blues from the lighter Oregon Blue to the earthy Smokey Blue. My hands down favorite, at least this year, is the Rogue River Blue.
Rogue River Blue is made but once a year, from milk gathered between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, and is cave-aged for one year. After aging, the forms are wrapped in syrah grape leaves that have been macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy. Doesn’t that sound amazing? It’s not cheap, and it shouldn’t be with what goes into making it, so I ponied up and brought a wedge of heaven home from the festival.
Oh, what a beautiful cheese. Tiny crystals speckle the deep blue veins, producing a party for your tongue which is creamy and crunchy, smooth and striking all at once. Although there are certainly myriad ways to enjoy this beauty, I’m not willing to dilute its flavor just yet and have focused on simple pairings, such as a slice of perfectly ripened pear.
It’s no wonder Rogue River Blue has won so many awards, including Best Blue Cheese in the World (London, 2003) when up against such powerhouses as British Stilton, Italian Gorgonzola, and French Roquefort. It has also won Best American Cheese, Super Gold World Cheese Award, and Best in Show twice at the American Cheese Society (2009, 2011).
Rogue Creamery’s motto, “handmade locally, celebrated globally,” is spot on. Yet, I’ve never turned an I5 road-trip into a “Rogue trip.” With all the times I’ve made the jaunt between Eugene and San Francisco, I’ve never detoured five-minutes off the interstate in Central Point, Oregon, to visit their shop. Next excursion south, I will, and I expect it will be the highpoint of the drive. In the meantime, specialty grocery stores, here I come.