Romance the cheese

Make a better world with every wheel, corner and crumble




By PAULA BANDY

In May 2002, David Gremmels began looking for local cheeses for his soon to be opened wine and cheese bar. While visiting Rogue River Valley Creamery, he met owner and cheesemaker Ignazio Vella. The two men paid an in-depth visit “into the nooks and crannies” of the creamery, which has been open since 1933, followed by a visit to the Italian cheesemaker’s family cottage. They sat at a Formica kitchen table, enjoying blue cheese and an espresso made from an old Italian moka pot. Gremmels promised Vella that he would honor his stories and his cheeses on the menu of his new wine and cheese bar.

Then Gremmels says, “Ignazio reached into his pocket, pulled out a lot of keys that we still use today, slammed them on the table, and said, ‘Damn, if you want my cheese, you’re gonna have to. yourself. . These are the keys. You have four weeks. I will close it. “” Gremmels replied, “Mr. Vella, are you asking me to…?” ‘You’re damn right. Bring me a proposal.

Vella accepted Gremmels’ second proposal, initiating a huge learning curve while sparking a lifelong passion. He is now President, Owner and Head Cheesemaker of Rogue Creamery.

Gremmels remembers this period as his “neglect days”. He shares, “I was so caught up in the passion, the stories, the romance.” With a handshake, the deal was sealed on July 1, 2002. Gremmels recounts, “Ig said, you know there’s no romance in this deal; it’s hard work, and more hard work, and more hard work.

Gremmels recognizes the difference between opening a restaurant and buying a creamery. He adds: “At the restaurant, I might have had 50 to 100 turnovers a night, but by saving the creamery from closing, I could feed thousands. For me, looking at the opportunity with this perspective changed everything. I knew I had a lot to learn, and it was exciting.

Although he had never made cheese, Gremmels had a taste for artisan cheeses since childhood. Growing up in Olympia, Washington, her family frequently vacationed in the Rogue Valley. He remembers his mother always had Oregon Blue.

But romance and stories are always part of Gremmels life; it is quite logical that he fell for an emblematic artisanal creamery. Early in his Seattle career, he crafted cafe-bistro menus and tasted artisan and world cheeses from a woman who became a lifelong friend.

Throughout his career, Gremmels continued to develop his creativity while traveling the world as Creative Director for The J. Peterman Company. As a “hands-on” person, his job was to draw pictures, come up with ideas and concepts for their product lines. While dining at bistros in places like Buenos Aires and Bali. While traveling, Gremmels regularly created culinary profiles, faxing them to the main office in Kentucky.

Robert Redford’s Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah is now part of his repertoire. He worked as a catalog design director for soft and durable products, including food and cheese. From there, Gremmels, recruited by a former colleague, returned to the Pacific Northwest as Vice President of Product and Brand Design for Bear Creek Corp., more commonly known as Harry & David. . He says that this job “gave me the opportunity to design their creative processes and create a creative design studio. It was one of the most notable jobs of my career outside of cheese, but even cheese was one of them.

Since that auspicious handshake, Gremmels — now known as “Mr. Blue” — has continued his education. “I took many courses from France to Vermont, Oregon and California, and was trained alongside a true master cheesemaker.” Vella remained a mentor and was Gremmels’ friend until his death in 2011.
The culture of thieves

“It’s my life’s work and my passion,” says Gremmels. “And I’m always happy to share our story with someone who knows the dairy but is unfamiliar with our company’s culture, mission and vision. We believe in doing the right thing all the time and having a safe, healthy, positive and “other-centered” approach in everything we do at the creamery as well as in our community, both socially and socially. environmental.

Rogue Creamery, vegetarian and certified organic, has become the first company in Oregon to be classified as a B Corp. Worldwide and ranks among the top five percent of B Corp companies in the world. B Corp companies must uphold high standards of business practice and, as Gremmels points out, “practice for social, economic and environmental good. Socially, with our commitments to the community. Economically, with our team and the associations we support. On the environmental level, thanks to our commitment to fight against climate change.

Rogue Creamery has won numerous awards and accolades. In May 2022, they were named #1 Best Green Workplace in Oregon by Oregon Business Magazine. Most recently, in mid-July 2022, Gremmels was honored as a visionary with the American Cheese Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Seventeen years earlier, at the request of Gremmels, Ignazio Vella had received the same award.

Then there’s Bertha, the blue 1948 Dodge pickup truck from Rogue Creamery that deserves its own beauty award. Gremmels acquired her while she was still in high school. He spotted the truck while on a Happy Camp fly fishing trip with his dad, who replied, “Don’t even think about it.” Ignoring this advice, Gremmels snuck into the river, bought the truck, and drove it back to Washington a week later, much to his father’s surprise. His father lovingly rebuilt the truck, adorned with a BIG CHZ license plate.

Rogue Creamery created the “Nellie Green Pedal Power Program”, focusing on sustainability and alternative modes of transportation. Any employee agreeing to cycle to work at least 45 days a year receives a bicycle. Committed to the exploitation of photovoltaic energy, the creamery offsets 45% of its electricity, with a future objective of 100%. Cheeses allowed Gremmels to perform these practices…but cheeses also have their own specific stories.
Milk expresses the landscape

Artisan cheese incorporates a sense of place, a terroir, similar to wine. Without any additives, and not standardized or pasteurized, the milk reflects the characteristics of what cows eat. Different flavors in different seasons, different years, almost like vintages, but not necessarily as distinctly as wine. This is one of the reasons why local cheeses go so well with the region’s wines. Similar environments result in comparable flavors that enhance and complement each other.

During my tour of the cheese factory, I was surprised to witness ‘flipping the hoops’, which to my trained eye is akin to the ‘riddling’ of champagne. For blue cheeses, they use gravity to “knit the curd together,” turning the perforated metal containers three or more times a day. The cheese wheels are created from the curd cut by hand and pierced a week in the affinage (aging process). The original strain of Penicillium roqueforti, imported from France by Vella in the early 1950s, is then added to the milk. This creates veins that carry oxygen in the wheels – necessary for the growth of Penicillium roqueforti – contributing to a creamy texture and the famous spiciness of Rogue Creamery.

Gremmels explains: “I first look at everything from an artist’s point of view. Each artist strives to create a sensory experience that has never been experienced before. This is my goal in creating Rogue River Blue. Create a sensory experience distinctly different from anything else in the world and a reflection of this place. This is achieved visually, textually and flavorfully. Developed over time in our cellars, this cheese with a natural rind incorporates bacteria and yeasts from this region, just like wine.

“The Rogue River Blue release has become like a Beaujolais release. People call to ask for their allowance and ask when they can get it,” says Gremmels. In 2019, this cheese was the first American cheese to win the coveted World Champion Cheese – the top prize – at the World Cheese Awards. Also rumored to be a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, the next release of this epic cheese is September 22, the autumnal equinox. I’ve had a taste, and you’ll want to indulge in a little romance with this vintage of the best cheese in the world.

Recommended Rogue Creamery Wine and Cheese Pairings

David Gremmel is also a wine collector, primarily from the Oregon and Burgundy regions. Of course, he has a particular penchant for wines that pair with his Rogue Creamery cheeses. Some of his favorites from Oregon are:

Awen Winecraft Grenache White pairs exceptionally well with cheddars, especially the floral and herbaceous Hopyard and Rogue’s Mary, named after Indian Mary Park, a little pun intended.

For bubbles, Côte Gauche Domaine Brut Rosé of Pinot Meunier blooms with Crater Lake Blue and Caveman Blue.

Cameron Winery Clos Electric Whitea Chardonnay, tastes amazing with the blues.

Another white that complements zesty blue cheeses is Troon Vineyard Cotes Du Kubli Blanc, with notes of crushed stone, flowers and fruits. The Rogue River Blue is complex; Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier go wonderfully together. This wine also pairs well with Jefferson Cheddar and Touvelle.

Moreover, the Troon Syrah is exceptional with Rogue River Blue, as it is wrapped in the grape leaves of the vineyard’s varietal.

Oregon Blue, a classic Northwest-style blue, pairs beautifully with Pinot Noir, including these: Authentic Keeler Estate Vineyard, Amity Vineyard Eola-Amity Hillsand Brooks Winery Janus – quintessential Oregon wine and cheese tasting to savor.

Abacela Dolcetto is an excellent choice to accompany blue cheeses. I always discover a new flavor in my cheeses by tasting them with this wine. It has lovely plum and floral notes, but also some spice, enhancing the peppery flavor of the blue.

Elisha A. Tilghman