The world of American artisan cheese has a new reigning king. Winning Best of Show out of 1,327 cheeses at the 2009 American Cheese Society annual competition tonight in Austin, Texas, is … insert virtual drum roll … Rogue River Blue, crafted by by David Gremmels and Cary Bryant at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon.
Made seasonally from autumn into early winter from the milk of grass-fed cows, Rogue River Blue is as beautiful as it is delicious. This raw-milk cheese is aged for up to a year in the creamery’s special aging rooms, which were constructed to simulate the ancient caves in Roquefort, France. The beauty of Rogue River Blue, however, is that it reflects its own region’s terroir, with flavors hinting of sweet woodsy pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, morels and pears.
To preserve the cheese, the folks at Rogue River hand wrap each wheel in grape leaves harvested from nearby Carpenter Hill Vineyards. The leaves are soaked in Clear Creek’s Pear Brandy and tied with raffia. Bryant and Gremmels say the grape leaves add additional complexity to the terroir-driven flavors of the cheese and preserve its moist, creamy texture. They’re absolutely right. Rogue River Blue is an exceptional cheese and I’m so happy for Bryant and Gremmels.
Rounding out the Best in Show awards were Cowgirl Creamery, California, which took Second Place Best in Show with its Red Hawk, a perennial favorite and a previous overall Best in Show winner at the 2003 ACS Show. Tying for third-place Best in Show were Carr Valley Cheese, Wisconsin, with its mixed milk Cave Aged Mellage, and Consider Bardwell Farm in Vermont, with its Rupert, a raw Jersey cow’s milk cheese.
Overall, Wisconsin fared quite well in the competition. Of 1,327 total entries, Wisconsin cheesemakers scored 92 awards, more than any other state, including 24 firsts, 34 seconds and 34 third places. Cheesemakers from 197 companies in 32 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico were represented.
In addition to taking Third Place Best of Show, Carr Valley’s Master Cheesemaker Sid Cook landed 19 ribbons. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, captured the second most ribbons for Wisconsin, with a total of 8 awards for her fresh and aged sheep’s milk cheeses. Holland’s Family Cheese took home the next most awards with six ribbons for its range of Dutch-style Goudas.
In summary, first place ribbons for Wisconsin cheesemakers went to:
• BelGioioso Cheese Inc., Denmark: Burrata
• Carr Valley Cheese, LaValle: Four-Year Cheddar, Cave Aged Mellage, Cocoa Cardona
• Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese: Les Frères Reserve
• Edelweiss Creamery: St. Mary’s Grass-Fed Gouda
• Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby: Driftless Honey Lavender, Farmstead Feta
• Holland’s Family Cheese, Thorp: Marieke Gouda Clove
• Klondike Cheese, Monroe: Dill Havarti, Lowfat Feta
• Meister Cheese, Muscoda: Roasted Red Pepper Mozzarella
• Montchevre-Betin, Belmont: Mini Log Flavored with Honey
• Organic Valley, La Farge: European Style Cultured Butter, Pepper Jack Cheese
• Pasture Pride Cheese, Cashton: Redstone, Guusto
• Roth Käse USA, Monroe: St. Otho, Gran Queso, Valfino
• Sartori Foods, Plymouth: Merlot BellaVitano, Black Pepper BellaVitano, SarVecchio Asiago, Pastoral Blend
Congrats to all the winners!! Can’t wait to sample all of these cheeses at Saturday night’s Festival of Cheese. I’ve got a pocket full of Lactaid and I’m not afraid to use it.