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Singing the Rogue River blues at the World Cheese Awards

CENTRAL POINT — A popular Rogue Valley blue cheese nabbed quite the blue ribbon last week, dubbed the best cheese on the planet by judges at the 32nd annual World Cheese Awards in Italy.

Judges named Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue Cheese the “World Champion Cheese” Friday at the competition in Bergamo, just northeast of Milan. It’s the first U.S. cheese to receive the title, one of 3,804 entries from 42 countries spread across six continents, according to the event website.

“I’m awestruck by the news, and I’m filled with gratitude,” Rogue Creamery president David Gremmels said in a telephone interview. “It’s an accomplishment, certainly. I’ve been refining and working on this recipe with my team for 17 years.”

Gremmels created the Rogue River Blue recipe in 2002 just after purchasing the creamery. Prior to the Friday announcement, it had already nabbed plenty of accolades, including Best Blue Cheese at the 2003 World Cheese Awards, when it was held in London, Best in Show at the 2009 and 2011 American Cheese Society Judging & Competitions, and best cheese at the Specialty Food Association’s 2018 sofi Awards. But this most recent honor is like cream, rising right to the top.

“This is the competition of all competitions,” Gremmels said. “To now be judged and recognized on an international level is a dream come true. I really never thought that I would see this day. I was so awestruck and taken back by the announcement, and truly filled with gratitude and pride.”

World Cheese Awards judges looked at the rind, body, color, texture, consistency “and above all, taste,” of each entry. The panel had narrowed the original 3,804 entries down to two finalists — Rogue River Blue and a Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy — entries that were originally tied, point-wise. The tie-breaking vote, cast by the judges’ chairman, went to Rogue River Blue.

Rogue River Blue is described as an organic cheese made with cow’s milk from the Rogue Creamery’s organic dairy, according to the creamery website.

“Each wheel has been cave-aged for 9 to 11 months and hand-wrapped in organic Syrah grape leaves that have soaked in pear liqueur,” the site reads.

Notes of vanilla, toasted nut, blackberry, huckleberry, chocolate and bacon are present, Gremmels said. He added the product is meant to be a representation of the Rogue Valley, with taste homages to milk cow pastures, pear orchards, and vineyards.

“It’s just all represented right there in one cheese,” he said.

Rogue Creamery first began producing blue cheese in 1954, 19 years after longtime owner Gaetano “Tom” Vella first began helming operations. Vella ran the creamery until 1981 when his son, Ig, stepped into the role, Gremmels said. Gremmels created the signature blue cheese recipe shortly after purchasing the business in 2002.

Now, less than two decades later, that recipe is being hailed as the best in the business.

“I’m very excited and share this award, of course, with my team at Rogue Creamery and our community that has supported us over 86 years, but also with fellow cheesemakers in America, who are really working each day to do the same,” Gremmels said. “Holding this cheese and recipe with my team, there are no words to describe it, honestly.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon is known for its award-winning blue cheese.