More Cheese, Please – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

A world champion and a winery that makes cheese illustrate the variety of local cheesemakers

Tempranillo wine and a large plate of appetizers at Wooldridge Creek Vineyard in Grants Pass. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Blue cheese ages at Rogue Creamery in Central Point. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Gene Martin and Phil Dequine work making cheddar cheese at Rogue Creamery in Central Point. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Cheddar cheese is in production at Rogue Creamery. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Cheeses age in a cooler at Wooldridge Creek Winery, one of the few wineries that is also a cheese maker. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

Aiyah Rebecca Geier cuts cheese made at Wooldridge Creek Vineyard in Grants Pass. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

When the Mail Tribune caught up with cheesemonger Phil Dequine he was just a month into the job at Rogue Creamery.

His employer is more than the largest cheese maker in southern Oregon. For him, it is a symbol of the house. He still remembers visiting the Creamery when he was a student at Mae Richardson Elementary.

“I was born and raised here in the Valley, and it’s pretty cool that I’m working for a place that shows even little guys can be great,” Dequine said.

He was referring to Rogue Creamery’s rise to the title of world champion at the 2019-2020 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy, for its flagship product, Rogue River Blue. Rogue Creamery, founded by Gaetano “Tom” Vella and Celso Viviani, was the first American cheesemaker to win this prestigious award.

Dequine, dressed in a lab coat, hairnet and mask, looked like he had just finished a training session after using long sticks to extract moisture from tons of cheese Cheddar.

“When you see the final product, and it comes out with all the quality and personality that people put into it… nobody even thinks about slacking off – that’s not even an option,” said Dequine, who has spent years in Wisconsin, often considered America’s dairy capital

.Immanuel Rodriguez, operations manager of Rogue Creamery, applauded his employees for the way they make the cheese.

“A lot of these guys, you get in there, it’s a nice mix of craftsmanship and science and experience,” he said.

While Rogue Creamery isn’t slowing down cheese-making, neither are other establishments in the valley — and some are trying it for the first time.

Rogue cheese making

Rodriguez explained how the company stands out from mass cheese makers.

“It’s different from these huge producers, who have these highly skilled and trained operators to operate the machines that make the cheese,” Rodriguez said. “Here, however, everything is done by hand. So skill and experience are all (of) the people who make the cheese.

Rogue Creamery makes two kinds of cheese: cheddar and blue, with several varieties of each.

The company gave a tour of its facility at 311 N. Front St. in Central Point, which includes separate buildings for blue cheese and cheddar cheese production.

The distinction between the two is that the blue cheese making facility has blue mold in the air to help age the cheese. As a general rule, employees who visit the blue cheese factory do not visit the cheddar shop the same day, so as not to risk inoculating it with blue mold.

Tom Van Voorhees, the company’s retail manager, explained how Rogue Creamery makes its famous cheeses, and he started by talking about milk.

While many large cheese companies use “standardized milk”, Rogue Creamery’s contains varying protein to fat ratios.

These different ratios are the result of the pasture-raised cows that provide the milk receiving different diets depending on the season.

This approach is important to Rogue Creamery because “we really try to get the expression of the milk from this valley right through to the finished product,” he said.

Blue cheese, Rogue Creamery style

Rogue Creamery ages blue cheese “in the traditional way,” Van Voorhees said, in a “cave-like environment.”

Cheese is made by introducing – not injecting – mold into the cheese when the milk is inoculated with blue mold spores.

“During the cheese-making process – about once a week (when) the wheels are strong enough to support themselves – they puncture them with a machine that just goes through them in straight lines, like little chimneys” , he wrote in an email.

“This is how the oxygen penetrates to the center of the cheese. Once oxygen is available, blue mold begins to reproduce. It makes its way into these small caves and finds small places between the curds where there might be air available.

The process of making Rogue Creamery’s blue cheese takes at least three months, although Rogue River Blue takes 11 months.

“The flavor is constantly changing. As it matures and the blue does its job, the mold continues to eat cheese,” Van Voorhees said.

Cheddar Cheese Making and Tasty Shop

A short walk from its cheddar-making facility, which involves extracting moisture from the curd, adding salt and pressing, is an on-site store.

This is where all Rogue Creamery products are sold. Products include jars of the company’s smoked blue cheese and chili pepper spreads (special crackers are available for dipping).

When you stop, be sure to order the grilled cheese sandwich, which features Rogue Creamery cheese between two pieces of toast toasted on a panini press.

“We’re a small production, very high quality, and really interested in something beyond just food,” Van Voorhees said.

A cheese infused experience

Aiyah Rebecca Geier is the manager and head cheesemaker of Crushpad Creamery at Wooldridge Creek Winery in Grants Pass.

The winery has been in operation for four decades and the creamery started in 2015. The operation takes its name from the fact that it started on the same equipment the winery uses to crush grapes for wine.

In 2020, Crushpad Creamery left this facility and got its own space – a barn on the winery property which includes retail space for its cheeses.

“We are the first, and I still think, the only winery-creamery combination,” Geier said. “It’s a destination.”

The creamery’s job, she says, is to provide cheeses that can be paired with her wine. »

Cheese and wine are pretty much a perfect match,” she said.

The creamery focuses on five kinds of cheese: fromage blanc, bloomy rind, washed rind, feta and an assortment of aged cheeses.

Each of these cheese categories contains a number of different ingredients, depending on the type. A bloomy crust called Midnight Valley is covered with ash from the Wooldridge Creek vineyards. Another, called Manzanita, has pink peppercorns pressed into the bark.

“Basically what you’re doing is trying to make the wine taste good,” Geier said. “Often cheese retains its flavor, but wine can taste different depending on the cheese you eat.”

In 2021, Crushpad Creamery launched its cheese club. The group hasn’t held many events due to the pandemic, but despite the economic impacts of COVID-19, business has been steady.“

People buy cheese here and go out, and I think that’s also part of the success of the cheese club,” she said. “That’s a good excuse to go out and get your cheese.”

Geier hopes Crushpad Creamery will become a staple of the Rogue Valley cheese scene.”

Right now we’re just focused on continuing to do what we do and do it well,” Geier said. “It’s fun. It’s cooking, it’s science and something delicious to eat all rolled into one.

At Rogue Creamery, Van Voorhees is equally enthusiastic about the profession.

Centuries ago, Italians paid Roman soldiers with cheese, Van Voorhees said. Given the cheese’s rich history, it could have been considered “the original energy bar,” he added.

“It was a very primitive but super ingenious discovery that milk would curdle, and that wouldn’t necessarily be bad,” Van Voorhees said. “It’s become just one more chore on the farm.”

From Van Voorhees’ point of view, there are many reasons to be proud of being a cheesemaker.“

It comes from the reaction someone gives you when they taste what you’ve made,” he said. “Just like the pride of someone who makes really good bread. … It’s the satisfaction of doing something well and being appreciated for it.