The unique and creative Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon won Best Cheese in the World at the World Cheese Competition held in Bergamo, Italy. It also is our Centerfold cheese, starting on page 26. This is an amazing cheese and all cheese lovers should strive to taste this cheese at least once in their lives. It really is that good.
However, this win, no matter how important on the world stage, is more than just a winning cheese.
In 2003, Rogue River Blue cheese won Best Blue in the World at the same competition. The win rocked the cheese world. While there has always been competition between the European cheesemakers, no one would have predicted that a new American Blue would beat all the Roquefort, Stiltons, Gorgonzolas and the other prominent, well-respected Blues of Europe. It was an earth-shattering moment that put Europe on notice that American cheesemaking had more than just caught up.
The situation was different than today. In 2003, fine American cheeses were unknown in Europe, and the U.S. was only starting to see national distribution of the best of America. Most of the fine cheeses were sold in independent specialty stores, and there was little distribution in chains. The average American had little opportunity to buy or even taste the greatest cheeses their own country had to offer.
When I was overseas and I mentioned Rogue River Blue at trade shows and competitions, everybody agreed on the grandeur of Rogue, but they believed it was a one-off cheese. The most frequent comment was, “One great cheese does not make a national movement.”
Fast forward to today. The cheese world has greatly expanded and, in 2019, the World Cheese Awards had 3,084 entries from 42 countries. There were 260 judges from 85 countries. For a cheese to reach the pinnacle, it must win in multiple classes as it moves its way up the ladder, until it reaches the ultimate level of five judges.
Just like the odds in 2003, the odds of an American cheese reaching such heights was never predicted, but last year Rogue River Blue was the exception to the rule. The United States’ cheeses won over 180 medals. They took seven Super Gold, 17 Gold, 40 Silver and 61 Bronze medals. It was a grand showing.
We can all talk proudly of great American cheeses and how they are equally worthy of accolades.