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Rogue River Blue Is First American Cheese Crowned World Champion

Rogue River Cheese
Photo: Tim Johnston Photography

An organic blue cheese produced by U.S. cheesemaker Rogue Creamery was named World Champion Cheese 2019 in Bergamo, Italy, on Oct. 18. Rogue River Blue is the World Cheese Awards’ first-ever American champion, taking the top honor among a record-breaking 3,804 entries from 42 different countries.

Made annually with organic cow’s milk from southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley, Rogue River Blue is cave-aged for nine to 11 months and hand-wrapped in organic Syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in pear liqueur. Brazilian judge Bruno Cabral described Rogue River Blue as a “taste party,” applauding its “different sensations, balance, sweet and spicy notes.”

At the end of the final judging stage, the blue cheese was level with a 24-month aged Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano Latteria Sociale Santo Stefano on 100 points, leaving it to the chairman of the judging panel, food broadcaster Nigel Barden, to give the casting vote. In third place with 92 points was a raw ewe’s milk cheese from Spain, Torta del Casar D.O.P. Virgen Del Prado made by Queseria Doña Francisca S.L.

Taking place in Italy for the first time in its 32-year history, the largest cheese-only competition on the planet was hosted by Bergamo’s annual Forme cheese festival and a new dairy trade show, B2Cheese. The international cheese community gathered at Fiera di Bergamo to judge entries from every corner of the globe, culminating in a final 16, which featured cheeses from the USA, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland, France and the U.K.

John Farrand, managing director of the Guild of Fine Food, organizers of the World Cheese Awards, said, “This year’s top prize was almost too close to call and I would like to congratulate both Rogue Creamery and Nazionale del Parmigiano Reggiano Latteria Sociale Santo Stefano for going the distance and providing us with one of the most dramatic finales in World Cheese history. These two wonderfully different cheeses say so much about the quality and diversity of cheesemaking today; one bold and ground-breaking, the other steeped in tradition, but both hitting all the high notes with our judges. Rogue Creamery has been at the forefront of the US artisan cheese revolution for some years, so it seems very fitting for them to be the first American winners of our World Champion Cheese trophy. I’d like to thank our partners, Forme and the inaugural B2Cheese trade show, for helping us to stage one of the biggest cheese events the world has ever seen, as we continue our mission to shine a spotlight on artisan cheesemakers across the globe.”

David Gremmels, owner of Rogue Creamery, said, “I am humbled and filled with gratitude. It has been nearly 16 years since Rogue River Blue was recognized at the World Cheese Awards in 2003. As a result, I worked with regulators, legislators and side-by-side with the USA Cheese Guild creating the first raw milk cheese health certificate and now Rogue River Blue is amongst other American cheeses like Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Harbison that can be found in fine cheese shops and restaurants in Europe, Australia, Japan and around the globe. I appreciate the sponsorship of this competition by the USA Cheese Guild. I share this honour with my dedicated team at Rogue Creamery, our organic herd of Brown Swiss and Holstein cows and truly appreciate our customers and partnership with Savencia supporting Rogue Creamery’s organic and b-corporation values.”

More nations than ever before were represented at this year’s World Cheese Awards, as cheesemakers from 42 countries in six continents sent their entries by boat, truck, train and plane. Cheese from Australia, Chile, Russia, South Africa and the USA made its way via 13 consolidation points across the globe, while Japanese cheesemakers also made their debut at the competition, following Japan being added to the list of countries permitted to export dairy products to the EU earlier this year.

All entries were judged in a single day, as 260 experts from 35 different countries assessed the cheeses’ appearance, texture, aroma and flavor, giving Bronze, Silver, Gold and Super Gold awards. Featuring cheesemakers, cheesemongers, buyers, chefs, retailers and writers, the International Super Jury included Mexico’s Carlos Yescas, France’s Roland Barthélemy, Italy’s Alberto Marcomini and USA’s Cathy Strange, who all put forward their chosen cheeses live on World Cheese TV, before crowning this year’s World Champion Cheese.

The judges attended a celebratory dinner held at Castello Visconteo in Cassano D’Adda, where the Guild of Fine Food’s annual Contribution to Cheese trophy was presented to Carlo Fiori of Luigi Guffanti 1876, in recognition of a career in cheese that spans more than half a century.

In a drive to reduce waste and reach out into the wider community, the World Cheese Awards and Forme partnered with Banco Alimentare, an Italian organization that collected and redistributed more than 90,000 tons of food to those in need during 2018 alone. Banco Alimentare was invited to collect cheese that had been suitably preserved during the competition, which will now be passed onto 125 charitable institutions within Bergamo. The proceeds from Forme’s charity gala night, Buono come il formaggio (As good as cheese), held on Oct. 19, will also be donated to fund additional cheese purchases.

The World Cheese Awards are organized by the Guild of Fine Food. The main sponsors of the World Cheese Awards 2019 are Barber’s 1833, Grana Padano, Le Gruyère AOP, Brazzale, Deliziosa, Meny, Savencia and the USA Cheese Guild; it was the 32nd edition of the competition. It’s the biggest cheese-only competition in the world—no yogurt, cream, butter or other dairy.

This year’s World Cheese Awards was brought to Italy for the first time in partnership with B2Cheese, Camera di Commercio Bergamo, Comune di Bergamo, Forme, Promozione del Territorio, Provincia di Bergamo and Regione Lombardia.

Entries represented a record-breaking 42 different nations from six continents—including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the USA and Wales. Judges from 35 different countries traveled to Bergamo to nose, taste and grade the cheese.

A super jury of 16 judges decided the final winning World Champion Cheese. Judges work in teams of three to four, identifying any cheeses worthy of a bronze, silver or gold award. They assess the look, feel, smell and taste of each entry, scoring aspects such as the appearance of the rind and paste, as well as the cheese’s aroma, body and texture, with the majority of points awarded for flavor and mouthfeel. Each team nominates one exceptional cheese as the Super Gold from their table. These cheeses are judged a second time by the super jury of 16 experts, who each select a cheese to champion in the final round of judging. The super jury, representing all four corners of the globe, then debate the final 16 in front of a live consumer and trade audience, before choosing the World Champion Cheese live on WCA TV.

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