Rogue River Blue Cheese wins Best in Show for 2011 at American Cheese Society competition in Montreal.

By on August 10, 2011

David Gremmels, president of Rogue River Creamery, just keeps piling up the prizes. In July, 2011, Rogue Creamery was named a Silver Finalist by the NASFT (National Association of Specialty Foods) Sofie awards.

But perhaps, the greatest victory this year for cheese, according to Gremmels, comes from the ruling by the FDA that raw milk cheeses, aged 60 days or more, are food safe and free of pathogens, by the act of aging.

Rob Kaufelt, proprietor of New York’s Murray’s Cheese Shops, told The Associated Press. “In France,” says Kaufelt, “thousands of tiny producers — ‘kitchens, back room operations’ — function under the same rules of sanitation as the large producers. ‘If those small cheese makers can do it without customers worrying about what they’re buying or eating, then certainly we should be able to do the same thing here,’ he says.”

This is a huge victory, not just for Rogue River Creamery or the other 1600 + raw milk cheese producers in America, but for consumers as well.

Well done, FDA. A ruling that makes sense. America thanks you.

I first became aware of the Rogue River Creamery when I moved to the Rogue Valley, Oregon in the mid eighties. Their blue cheese was just stupendous and I used it in everything.

At the time, the company was owned by the Vella family, Tom Vella, had founded it and was in the process of turning over the company to his son, Ig (Ignacio). Tom lived to the ripe old age of 100, and didn’t turn over the rein of the company to his son until Ig was 70.

One day, I was waiting for the zillionth time for the plane from San Fran up to Medford when I noticed a tiny couple, both dressed head to foot in black. The old woman handed the man a little pink box as he boarded the plane.

Lo and behold, he sat down beside me, and it turned out it was old Mr. Vella, who must have been in his mid nineties by then.

And he told me the story of how Rogue River Creamery came to pass. He had started a cheese company in Sonoma, Vella Cheese, in 1931, and had gained a quick and deserved reputation for making excellent Italian style cheeses including a Jack and an Aged Jack.

But his relatives back in Italy began writing him to say that they knew a war was coming and he’d better get ready to produce “government cheese.”

Well, Old Mr. Vella had bought as much milk as he could find in Sonoma, so he got on the train and started North, getting off at every stop to inquire if there were any dairies for sale. Finally, when he got to Medford, Oregon, he found one busted dairy man who wanted out, so he bought the Rogue Valley Creamery.

Sure enough, the war came, and the Vellas spent the next 5 years producing and selling “government” cheese (his words) to the U.S. Government.

Needless to say, they made a good bit of money.

To celebrate, after the war, Mr. Vella decided to take his wife on a vacation to Europe. They would do the grand tour. But, cheesemen are cheesemen, and when they got to France, all Mr. Vella wanted to do was visit Roquefort.

He struck up a relationship with a Roquefort cheese maker who gave him a penicilium starter which he brought back to Oregon.

He told the French cheese maker he believed the caves around Medford were enough like the caves in Roquefort that he could make a blue cheese in the United States.

It was hard going at first. Americans weren’t used to the sophisticated taste of a blue veined cheese. But he persevered and soon the tastes of Americans caught up.

Now this story took up the entire hour we rode the plane from SF to Medford and he kept offering me cookies from his little pink box, which I took and ate, just so he’d keep talking.

His son, Ig, took over the business after the old man died at 100, and now, this June, his son, Ig, has also died, at the age of 82.

But their high standards, and excellent skills are being upheld by the new management led by David Gremmels. Go David. Keep those prizes coming.

You can order Rogue River blue cheeses online at Plant visits are welcomed at 311 N. Front street, Central Point, Oregon 97502. 41 665 1155.

And try not to swoon over the amazing creamy aroma in the air when you’re there.  You can look through the glass and see the cheese being made.  It’s a great field trip.  And don’t forget to buy some cheese curds when you’re there.

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”