Welcome to my new weekly series, “It’s Sunday Morning: Time to Talk Cheeses”.
The first and third Sunday of each month, I will interview a Cheesemaker. The other Sundays, I’ll explore cheese, the true love of my life… along with The lady.
To kick off our series, I had the pleasure to sit down earlier today with Cheesemaker and Co-Owner of Rogue Creamery, David Gremmels.
David and his partner, Cary Bryant, have been making Award-Winning cheeses at Rogue Creamery since 2002. Their Rogue River Blue has won Best of Show twice at the American Cheese Society Competition, only the second cheese to be so honored. In 2003, Rogue River Blue was named “Best Blue Cheese in the World” at the World Cheese Awards. Since becoming owners, the Creamery’s cheeses have won more than 100 awards worldwide.
This past summer, The Lady and 6 Cheesemongers from Fred Meyer, had the honor of spending a day at the Creamery making cheese with David and Cary and their amazing crew. It was one of The Lady’s best cheese days…for moi… not so much… I was not invited… Rogue Creamery is another one of those pesky “No Pets Allowed” establishments. A fact that I brought up before our interview began this morning and as usual got the standard “government regulations prohibits animals in the make room”… I am fastidious in my bathing habits… bathing several times a day… you don’t get much cleaner… sheesh… humankind…
However, because The Lady loves David and Cary dearly, I decided to let it slide and play nice during our interview…
Spaulding Gray: David, first of all, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for me. I am sure my loyal readers appreciate your generosity as well.
What made you and Cary decide to buy Rogue Creamery and make cheese? What did you do before Rogue Creamery?
David Gremmels: Cary and I were in the process of opening a wine bar called “Palace Wine Bar & Cheese” at 542 A Street in Ashland Oregon during the summer of 2002. We were diligently and meticulously restoring a historic wood frame vernacular western building in the historic railroad district of Ashland, Oregon. In the process of the building’s historic restoration we began assembling the wine and cheese list and pairings.
Cary and I were invited to visit the Rogue River Valley Creamery and meet Ig Vella in June of 2002. Ig gave us a grand tour pointing out the historical machinery, cheese caves and sharing the processes. We finished the tour at the Vella’s cottage built in 1935 on the North end of the property. Ig made Cary and me a thick Italian Espresso from the 1950’s stove in his father’s original stove top espresso maker which Ig referred to as a cafeteria. While enjoying conversation, Oregon Blue and Oregonzola I summarized our visit by assuring Ig that we would honor his blue cheese with significant placement in our wine and cheese bar.
He looked hard at both of us and said, “Fellas if you want my cheese you’re going to have to make it yourself. I am closing her down (referring to the creamery) July first.” Both Cary’s and my jaw hit the table and I softly asked, “Mr. Vella are you asking us to purchase the creamery?” Ig’s reply was, “Goddamn it, yes and there are other offers on the table.” Cary and I immediately began our due diligence and purchased the creamery on a handshake after making two vats of Oregon Blue Vein cheese with Ig Vella on July 1, 2002.
We have never regretted our decision and our thankful for Ig’s mentorship, friendship and commitment to our success. We miss him.
(Note: Ig Vella died in June 2011 at the age of 82.)
Spaulding Gray: What is the first cheese you remember eating as a child?
David Gremmels: The first cheeses I remember eating were Tillamook Creamery Cooperative Sharp Yellow Cheddar and ironically Oregon Blue Vein Cheese.
Spaulding: Did you education background assist you in cheesemaking or the business of cheesemaking?
David: My education in marketing at Pacific Lutheran University, my background as a business executive and entrepreneur plus my experience being raised on a farm immersed in 4-H have been most helpful.
Rogue Creamery’s current success I attribute a great deal to Cary’s background education in micro biology and chemistry UMASS Amherst and the University of Washington and his experience an entrepreneur. He was a novelty refrigerator magnet tycoon creating the “Dress me up David.”
(Note: The Lady actually owned one of those magnets and spent many happy hours dressing and un-dressing her David…)
Spaulding: Have you ever eaten Velveeta? If so how did you eat it?
David: Happy to report that I have not eaten Velveeta! Though, admittedly I had my share of Kraft singles when I was a child. I loved a slice of Kraft single on an open face buttered piece of toast place under the broiler and perfectly heated to a perfect toasty dome. Yikes, what was I thinking?
(Note: JL Kraft helped finance Rogue Creamery when Tom Vella was opening in 1928. The Man who created Kraft Singles also helped many artisan cheesemakers…)
Spaulding: What cheese and beer or wine would you pair with mus musculus?
Spaulding Gray: And for my last question; would you like to see a system in the US similar to the European AOC/PDO/DOP? Why or why not?
David Gremmels: I think it’s a matter of time before we see a similar system. American original cheeses are young compared to European recipes. With the development of wine Appellations throughout the Americas I can see such a system in two decades.
Spaulding Gray: David, The Lady and I again thank you and are honored to have you as our first interviewee.
Our June Giveaway is Sully’s Date Jams: Starting June 11th, and the following 3 Mondays (4 winners total) we will give one lucky subscriber Sully’s Date Jam… details to follow tomorrow… all you do is subscribe to my email newsletter. I will never sell or use your email address in a nefarious manner. If you already subscribe and have not won one of our giveaways in the last 30 days… you, too are eligible to win…