Oregon Bounty 2006 Day Five: Southern Oregon – The Whey It Is
Yesterday I learned that mold is a good thing, and I’m not talking about the stuff covering that orange that’s been sitting in the bottom of my refrigerator for weeks. The mold in question is the green-blue running through the bleu cheese being handcrafted at Southern Oregon’s Rogue Creamery.
My mission on this leg of the trip was to try my hand at being a cheesemaker. What I learned is, that while milk and mold are an important ingredient in making great bleu, passion is what really pushes it into the cheese stratosphere.
The guide on my cheese journey was David Gremmels, co-owner and cheesemaker at Rogue Creamery. His is a quintessential Oregon story: four years ago he stopped by the creamery to taste products for a new wine bar he was opening in Ashland. He ended up buying the company.
It was one of those right place/right time encounters. The previous owner, a second generation cheesemaker getting ready to retire, was looking to sell. He had offers on the table, but knew the prospective buyers would eventually end up scavenging the brand, shuttering the plant, and moving production out of state. David threw in an offer, spent a day making cheese, and left with a handshake deal. Within a year, Rogue Creamery was at the top of the bleu cheese heap, winning a string of awards over the world’s top cheesemakers.
As David led me through the process of creating their limited edition Rogue River Bleu (a creamy, earthy bite of heaven), it became clear very quickly why he’s selling more than just cheese out of his small, decades-old creamery. While I went elbow-deep into the curds, helping to turn the soft-yet-firm morsels for yesterday’s batch, David’s exuberance for what would rise out that whey was barely controlled. He adores his cheese. He constantly complimented and called by first name the creamery’s few dozen employees, and not in a the-boss-is-giving-someone-a-tour-of-the-plant-acting-like-he-does-this-all-the-time kind of way, either. I got the feeling that it didn’t matter if David made cheese or sold appliances; he’d love what he did and would be incredibly successful at it.
During Oregon Bounty, you can drop by the creamery, located about 15 minutes north of Ashland in Central Point. You can also learn the magic that chefs can make with these cheeses during special events at the new Harry and David store in Medford. Wineries throughout the Rogue, Umpqua and Applegate regions are having special events each weekend where you can taste Rogue Creamery’s products, local pears and more along with the latest vintages, too. Check out the Southern Oregon section of traveloregon.com/bounty and go to Winery Events or Festivals/Events.
Finally, check out the video diary of my cheesemaking experience, or read about my reflections of visiting the ranch in Southern Oregon where my great, great grandparents settled in the 1800s.
Now, it’s on to the Willamette Valley. See you on the road tomorrow.
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