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“Oregonzola—A Riff on the Classic Italian Blue”
This month The Strong Buzz Cheese Wiz Sasha Davies considers Oregonzola, a deliciously ripe riff on the classic Gorgonzola (get it?) from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon that’s aged a minimum of 4 months.
David Gremmels and Cary Bryant bought Rogue Creamery less than ten years ago because the owner, Ignazio Vella, told them they'd have to if they wanted to sell his cheese for the wine bar they were planning to open. This offer, presented to almost anyone else, would have likely fallen on deaf ears. Fortunately he offered it to David and Cary who are the kind of people that live in what is possible- not risk takers per se- but people who are willing to take a chance on something when their gut tells them to.
Rogue has a long history of cheesemaking stretching back to the 1930's. It is also a tradition peppered with "firsts." Oregon Blue was the first blue cheese produced on the west coast, Rogue Smokey Blue was the first of its kind from the region, the creamery won an awared for the best blue cheese at the World Cheese Awards in London in 2003, and this year Rogue Creamery became the first American artisan producer to export raw milk cheese to Europe. This recent development is a huge step forward not just for Rogue but also for the larger artisan cheese industry. They are putting American cheeses on the map and also cementing the tradition of raw milk cheesemaking in the U.S.
The creamery is back to its former glory if not beyond. David and Cary have worked in close partnership with Mr. Vella to ensure that they remain true to Rogue's roots. Their success is apparent in the staff working there- many of the cheesemakers there today remember coming to the creamery as young children to buy a bag of warm cheese curds on their way to go fishing with their fathers. Rogue Creamery is proof that in the right hands, a relatively small business can have a tremendous impact on its local community and a burgeoning industry.
Oregonzola is exactly what it sounds like: an Oregonian's reinterpretation of the great Italian blue Gorgonzola. In producing an Italian style cheese, Rogue is honoring the heritage of the Vella family. There are many types of Gorgonzola (Piccante, Cremificato, Mountain), Oregonzola seems most closely related to Gorgonzola Dolce with its creamy texture, lactic and buttermilk flavors punctuated by veins of blue. The bluing is a bit more bright in flavor than Gorgonzola but the paste has a touch of that dulled baking soda note that to me is quintessentially Gorgonzola-esque.
All of Rogue's blue cheeses are made from raw milk. Once the curd has set and drained in the round forms it is kept at a cool temperature in a large aging room filled with fellow blue cheeses. The wheels are dry salted and turned at regular intervals for a number of days before being pierced with metal spikes. The piercing provides the Penicillium cultures with the oxygen they need to flourish and turn blue. Oregonzola is aged for a minimum of 120 days before being released to market. This allows adequate time for flavor development and for the paste to break down and soften a bit more than some of the other Rogue blues.
Wines- Port would make a lovely pairing with this cheese- even something as simple and affordable as Graham's Port Six Grapes.
Beer- Full Sail Pale Ale. This beer mellows the few shrill notes of blue in the Oregonzola but doesn't interfere with the buttermilk flavors.
Spirts- Poire William, a sweet pear brandy would make an interesting riff on the terroir based pairing of this cheese with pears.
Condiments- Pears often make a dazzling pairing with blue cheeses and Oregonzola is no exception. The combination is also what I would call a terroir based pairing because Oregon is known for producing copious varieties of beautiful pears.
It's a little tricky to find in New York City possibly but it's always available on the Rogue Creamery website (www.roguecreamery.com). Many NYC cheese shops stock other Rogue cheeses like the famous Smokey Blue, Rogue River Blue, and Oregon Blue so don't hesitate to ask them to bring in some Oregonzola for you to try.
Retailers carrying Rogue Creamy cheeses:
Bierkraft: 191 5th Avenue, Brooklyn
Blue Apron Foods: 814 Union Street, Brooklyn
Whole Foods: Bowery and Columbus Circle locations
Murray's Cheese: Bleecker Street and Grand Central Locations
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