Rogue Creamery owner and cycling enthusiast Dave Gremmels may have conquered seven Cascade Mountain peaks in one week by participating in Cycle Oregon’s Magnificent Seven bike tour. But Gremmels considers his biggest challenge to be decidedly less glamorous: dairy farming. In the early years of his cheesemaking business, Gremmels realized organic dairy farming and local sourcing were the key ingredients to the success of his award-winning cheddars and blues. Back then he put countless miles on his pickup truck as he scoured the countryside looking for ideal milk sources at local dairies. His conviction ultimately led him to open his own dairy of 120 Holstein and Brown Swiss cows and counting. On any given day, you can find him checking on the ladies in the pastures of his Grants Pass farm.
“It takes a lot of courage to be a farmer today, with threats of water shortages, increasing fuel and energy prices, and radical weather shifts,” says Gremmels, who cites Southern Oregon’s diverse landscape, ideal weather and commitment to sustainable agriculture as reasons he’s made the Rogue Valley his home and business headquarters.
Taught by Rogue Creamery founder Ignazio “Ig” Vella that cheesemaking is a science requiring impeccable timing and pure ingredients, Gremmels has become known as the unofficial “artisan-food ambassador” of the Rogue Valley, incorporating everything from local beer to chocolate in his cheeses. When guests walk into the Rogue Creamery cheese shop, located in Central Point, they discover Rogue Creamery cheeses made with local products, including “hop cheese” varieties like the Hopyard Cheddar, mixing Freedom Hops from Chatoe Rogue Hop Farm with a cow’s-milk cheddar, and Chocolate Stout Cheddar, combining Rogue Ales’ chocolate stout with classic hand-milled cheddar. Grilled-cheese sandwiches are made on-site with local breads and cheeses such as the Rosemary Cheddar featuring Rogue’s Mary cheese. The blue-cheese varieties are created from local dairy products, using the production and aging science taught by Ig and honed by Gremmels and his partner, Cary Bryant. Customers will also find an array of local products to choose from, ranging from small-batch beer to organic jams to artisan wines.
“Using local ingredients allows us to tell Southern Oregon’s story through its flavors and the quirky personalities behind those flavors,” says Gremmels. All told, Rogue incorporates beers from seven Oregon breweries, including Rogue Ales and Caldera Brewing, into signature cheeses. Gremmels also pairs his cheeses with Oregon wine and Lillie Belle Farms chocolates, and he plans to launch a line of organic, decadent ice cream inspired by local names and flavors in 2016.
“It excites me to share the stories of individual farmers and makers at my table with guests who journey from all parts of the world,” Gremmels says. “I take my ambassador role seriously, promoting wine, chocolate, beer, bread, jam, honey, mead, meat, cheese and more from my neighbors and friends.”
And as tends to be the way with generosity of spirit, the returns are abundant. “I’m awestruck and inspired by the number of Oregon chefs incorporating Rogue Creamery cheese into their menus,” Gremmels says, “and I’m grateful to them for selecting our cheese and being the voice for Oregon’s farmstead and artisan-cheese movement.”
It’s a business model that’s paid off. Gremmels’ Rogue River Blue became the first American blue cheese to achieve the title of World’s Best Blue at the 2003 World Cheese Awards, an honor followed by many others in subsequent years, both globally and locally. Due to the recognition from the international cheese community, Rogue blues are welcomed into dining rooms from Dubai to Buckingham Palace — not too shabby for a businessman turned farmer who puts Oregon first.
Photography by Jared Cruce