Forget the American love affair with Cheez Whiz, blocks of Velveeta and pasteurized processed cheese food slices.
A cheese from the United States has been named the world’s top cheese.
Rogue River Blue has taken the top prize at the 2019 World Cheese Awards, marking the first time a US cheese has ever been named World Champion Cheese.
An organic blue cheese produced by Rogue Creamery of Central Point, Oregon, Rogue River Blue beat a record-breaking 3,804 entries from 42 countries at the awards, held this year in Bergamo, Italy, in mid-October.
Some 260 judges from 35 different countries judged the cheeses, narrowing the list down to a final 16. An international “super jury” of experts chose the winners.
Coming in second place was an Italian cheese, the 24-month aged Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano Latteria Sociale Santo Stefano. It was followed by a Spanish raw ewe’s milk cheese, Torta del Casar D.O.P. Virgen Del Prado made by Queseria Doña Francisca.
Noted cheese expert Janet Fletcher, who was not involved in the competition, wasn’t surprised by Rogue River Blue’s win.
“Nobody who knows this cheese could be surprised by its strong showing,” said Fletcher, cookbook author, teacher and publisher of the Planet Cheese blog.
“Rogue River Blue has triumphed in US competitions, too. What I admire about it, beyond the taste, is the effort the creamery has taken to showcase other local ingredients like wine grapes and pears. It’s an effort to really give this cheese a ‘taste of place.'”
Rogue Creamery makes its champion cheese in the fall, from organic cow’s milk from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. The cheese wheels spend 9 to 11 months in the creamery’s cheese caves, and then are hand wrapped in organic Syrah grape leaves soaked in pear liqueur.
Brazilian judge Bruno Cabral called Rogue River Blue a “taste party” with “different sensations, balance, sweet and spicy notes,” according to a statement by the Guild of Fine Food, which organizes the awards.
“I share this honor with my dedicated team at Rogue Creamery, our organic herd of Brown Swiss and Holstein cows,” David Gremmels, owner of Rogue Creamery, who is also known as “Mr. Blue,” said in a statement.
“Rogue River Blue took the top prize this year in some style, rising to the top among a record-breaking number of entries from more countries than ever before,” said John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food. “Our first American champion has certainly turned a few heads, but that’s what the World Cheese Awards is all about — shining a spotlight on excellent cheese, wherever it happens to be made.”
“The idea that great cheese can only be crafted in France or Italy is simply not true, and we’re seeing more and more cheeses from the likes of Japan, South Africa and Russia hitting the high notes with our judges and delivering a true sense of terroir,” he said.
“Rogue River Blue has done exactly that, with everything about the cheese telling a story of Oregon’s climate, its seasons and its people, from the Syrah leaves and pear liqueur to the organic milk itself.”
The list of 16 finalists included cheeses from Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Japan.
Rogue River Blue sells for $75 for a quarter wheel when purchased directly from Rogue Creamery, but it’s also available in some Whole Foods stores and some cheese shops like Murray’s Cheese in New York City and Tomales Bay Foods (home of Cowgirl Creamery) in Petaluma, California.
This year’s Rogue River Blue was a very good year, the company stated on its website. “The rinds developed beautifully and the flavor is exceptional, exhibiting the fruit, spice, blackberry, vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate and bacon flavors for which this cheese is known.”
“The artisan cheese revolution in the US has been gaining momentum for some years now, and Rogue Creamery has been knocking on the door of greatness ever since their impressive debut at the awards back in 2003,” Farrand said.
“So it feels very fitting for David and his team to be the first to be taking the World Champion Cheese trophy back to America.”