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Rogue Creamery enters dairy farm business

FORT VANNOY — Rogue Creamery in Central Point may be the premiere blue cheese maker in the country, but the prime ingredient comes from a herd of cows west of Grants Pass.

Until recently, the creamery bought its milk from local dairyman Delmar Brink, but with Brink's recent retirement, the company shifted sources, and for the first time ever has gone into the dairy business.

Company owners Cary Bryant and David Gremmels have wanted to control their own milk source since purchasing the business 13 years ago, Marketing Director Francis Plowman explained.

"It's really about control and supply," he said. "If your dairy man decides to retire … you can't have a disruption in your milk source. We wanted that extra layer of control."

Plowman said Rogue Creamery by next spring wants to have the dairy farm certified organic, which means synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used. The dairy already is certified sustainable, a reference to its environmental practices, animal welfare and social/economic equity.

Rogue Creamery was founded during the Great Depression by Tom Vella, who began making renowned blue cheeses about 60 years ago. Bryant and Gremmels bought the company in 2002 from the Vella family.

The company has an old Grants Pass connection: The Vella family owned Rogue Gold Cheese, which operated until the late 1990s at Fifth and H streets, at what is now the Roux 26 restaurant.

The new Rogue Creamery Dairy is located at 6531 Lower River Road, next to Brink's former Rogue View Dairy. The 75-acre farm supports 130 cows, with plans for 110 more. The location is marked by a large new dairy barn, which is topped by an arching white fabric roof, under which the farm's cows are milked automatically by machines.

Gone are the days of farmers hunched beside cows, splattering milk into a pail. Now, the cows walk up on their own, enter through an automated gate and get milked by a machine.

"No human hands touch them," said Tara Bethel, who was giving a tour recently to visitor Karla Allen and Allen's children.

The milk is trucked to Central Point for processing. Rogue Creamery's retail operation, at 311 N. Front St. in Central Point, is a popular tourist attraction. The new dairy farm might attract visitors, too.

Tours are offered at the dairy farm at noon on Fridays. An on-site store, the Rogue Creamery Dairy Farm Stand, is open there, too, Wednesday through Sunday.

Plans are in the works to make the new dairy a stop on a summertime "Expedition Transport" vehicle that will circle the core of Grants Pass and travel west on Lower River Road to Wildlife Images.

The dairy farm, which began operating in February, actually was bought three years ago, for $700,000, according to Josephine County tax records. Plowman didn't reveal how much the new barn or milking machines cost.

The dairy's on-site store opened in March, in what Plowman described as a soft opening.

A more formal grand opening celebration probably will come soon, he said.

The new dairy's pastures are irrigated with water from the nearby Rogue River, something Plowman touts. The dairy is managed by Todd Hayton, who has more than 20 years of experience.

The new barn is eye-catching — it's larger than a football field — and the cows are cute, but the robotic milking machines steal the show. Using electronic sensors, gates open, cows enter and their undersides get spray-cleaned. Robotic arms with suction devices then go to work.

Each machine handles 60 cows. Plans call for two more machines and increasing the herd to 240. The herd includes Holstein, Brown Swiss and Jersey breeds.

 The farm stand offers samples, cheeses and sandwiches. Its grilled cheese sandwiches were a hit last week with visitors Dave Siddon and Devan Ferrell of Wildlife Images.

"Awesome grilled cheese," Ferrell said.

"This is great," Siddon said. "Wonderful neighbors to have."

Hours at the store are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. For information, call 541-471-7292.

Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3813 or shall@thedailycourier.com

Karla Allen, left, and her children tour a new frame and fabric barn at the recently opened Rogue Creamery Dairy, 6531 Lower River Road. Tara Bethel, right, leads the tour. SEAN HALL/DAILY COURIER PHOTO.