A U.S. Cheese Now Wears the World’s Best Cheese Crown
One judge described Rogue Creamery’s cave-aged Rogue River Blue as a ‘taste party.’
You might expect the most admired cheese in the world to hail from France, Italy, Switzerland or the Netherlands. In 2018 and 2017, it came from Norway and Britain, respectively. But this year, for the first time ever, the World’s Best Cheese crown has been placed proudly upon the head of an American cheese.
Not American cheese like that stuff that comes in slices wrapped in plastic. No, the American-made cheese in question is actually Rogue River Blue, a "dense, vegetal, smoky blue" cheese -- as it was described by one cheesemonger where, until it became world famous, the cheese was available -- made with organic cow’s milk by Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, where it is aged in caves for between nine and 11 months.
The Oregon blue cheese, which also boasts a hint of fruity flavor because each wheel is wrapped by hand in organic, pear-liqueur-soaked Syrah grape leaves, beat out 3,804 contenders from 42 countries to capture top honors at the 2019 World Cheese Awards on October 18, marking the first time a U.S. cheese has won the top award in the competition’s 32-year history.
Rogue River Blue, which one of the judges on the panel described as a "taste party" featuring "different sensations, balance, sweet and spicy notes," emerged victorious in a photo finish – or whatever the cheese-championship version of that is -- with another competitor: Italy’s Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano Latteria Sociale Santo Stefano, aged for 24 months. Both cheeses captured 100 points in the final round of judging, and a deciding vote was cast by the judging panel’s chairman, British food broadcaster Nigel Barden, who tipped the scale in Rogue River Blue’s direction. A Spanish cheese, Queseria Doña Francisca S.L.’s Torta del Casar D.O.P. Virgen Del Prado, which collected 92 points from the judges, captured third place.
"This year’s top prize was almost too close to call and I would like to congratulate both Rogue Creamery and Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano Latteria Sociale Santo Stefano for going the distance and providing us with one of the most dramatic finales in World Cheese history," John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, which organizes the World Cheese Awards, the world’s largest cheese-only competition, said in an announcement. "These two wonderfully different cheeses say so much about the quality and diversity of cheesemaking today; one bold and ground-breaking, the other steeped in tradition, but both hitting all the high notes with our judges. Rogue Creamery has been at the forefront of the US artisan cheese revolution for some years, so it seems very fitting for them to be the first American winners of our World Champion Cheese trophy."
Rogue Creamery, for its part, said in an Instragram post that it was "over the moon" to have received "the greatest honor a cheese can receive" and to have been the first American-made cheese to have been so honored. Alas, the cheese, which is released only annually each September, has now, not surprisingly sold out for 2019, but Rogue Creamery is now accepting preorders for 2020.
"I am humbled and filled with gratitude," Rogue Creamery’s owner, David Gremmels, said in a statement. Gremmels added that he shared the honor with not only his "dedicated team," partners and customers, but also Rogue’s "organic herd of Brown Swiss and Holstein cows."
Photo: Beryl Striewski