Friday, November 25, 2011

Rogue River Blue Cheese

This cheese is a testament to Oregon’s terroir. It is made only for a short window in the fall when the milk is at its highest butterfat content. The flavors include hints of sweet woodsy pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, and pears.

To preserve this cheese, each wheel is hand wrapped in grape leaves. Over several days, a team accumulates over 60,000 syrah leaves. After being picked and washed, they’re hand-bathed in Pear Brandy from Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery. Nearly 40 gallons of the fragrant pear eau de vie are used to process a year’s batch. After months in the brandy, the leaves become velvety and supple, adding complexity and flavor components to the cheese, plus preserving its moist creamy texture.

Leaves are a centuries-old means of wrapping cheese, and cheesemakers all over the world have wrapped their wares in this natural, practical packaging. Convenience and preservation are one reason, but leaves also affect flavor — and some more than others. David Gremmels, Rogue Creamery’s owner settled on syrah leaves after experimenting with different varietals from several Southern Oregon vineyards. “We initially tried several types of leaves including malbec, zinfandel and merlot,” he says, “but the syrah delivered more mellow, soft flavors whereas the other types tended to deliver sharper, pointed flavors.”

The cheese is aged for a year in caves built to resemble the famed caves of Roquefort, allowing natural molds of the Rogue River Valley to ripen the cheese. The resulting cheese develops a wonderfully complex flavor. It is rich, buttery, silky, and sweet, with soft fruit flavors and a slight smokiness.

“The texture of Rogue River Blue is ethereal, smooth yet grainy, creamy yet crumbly. The leaves hold in some of the moisture, and the brandy has a chance to penetrate the cheese, lending both flavor and still more moisture — but not so much that the blue molds can’t work their magic as well. I think Rogue River Blue is unquestionably one of the best blue cheeses made in the United States.”
says cheese expert Laura Werlin.

While you might be inclined to pull off the leaves before sampling your Rogue River Blue, Gremmels advises eating the leaves to fully appreciate the commingling of leaves, brandy and cheese.

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