When people learn I’m a cheesemonger, a question that often pops up is “So what’s your deserted island cheese?” You know, the only one you could have every day for the rest of your life. That’s easy – a well-aged Gruyère – as superb for eating as it is for cooking.
But someone just asked, “What’s your death row cheese?” A little grim, but it made me pause – what single cheese would I want on the last day of my life? Recalling my “aha” moments, those instances of enlightenment when you realize what makes an exceptional cheese, my death row choice has to be Rogue River Blue. It encapsulates the meticulous care required by the cheesemaker to produce a cheese that expresses the terroir of the land like no other. It’s a perfect example of what “local,” “artisanal” cheesemaking is all about. Each bite, with its buttery-rich mouthfeel studded with crystalline blue nuggets, unravels deep, complex savory-sweet flavors that unravel and joyously linger on the palate.
The cheesemakers, David Gremmels and Cary Bryant of Rogue Creamery, start with the milk of local herds produced only at the end of summer when the milk composition is richest in butterfat and flavor. Grazing at high elevations around Oregon’s Rogue River, their diet includes native grasses, wild herbs, clover and wild flowers. The exceptionally high quality milk is used exclusively to begin crafting this seasonal treasure.
Around the same time, the cheesemakers hand-pick Syrah grape leaves from the local Carpenter Hill Vineyard which they begin soaking in pear brandy from Portland’s Clear Creek Distillery. After a few months of aging the young cheeses and bathing the grape leaves, each wheel is fastidiously wrapped in the leaves and returned to the cellar to age for another nine to ten months where the magic continues. As the leaves penetrate the pear brandy flavors, the blue cultures intensify the fudgy, dense paste – a perfect balance of fruity sweetness, salty piquancy and buttery smoothness.
Rogue River Blue is then released the following autumn and we just received our small allotment at Marché. Please stop by soon while it’s on hand and we’d be pleased to offer a taste and wrap some up to go. This cheese has so much character I think it can stand by itself as the only cheese served – especially satisfying after dinner, maybe with a drizzle of ginger infused honey. It’s also beautiful on a cheese board at your holiday parties and is sure to impress. Life is short and our supply is limited – don’t wait to enjoy this once a year release.