It was once said that cheese comes before dessert because it is the first dessert. Fromage blanc (when blended with sugar) makes a great cheese cake; a young triple cream pairs wonderfully with strawberries. I consider eating these cheeses equal to shotgunning a can of whipped cream, but with class. They’re great, everyone’s going to love them.
But in my opinion, the finest dessert cheese of all time is blue cheese. Pairing it with fruit, honey or late harvest wine provides a window to human happiness, as it might have existed thousands of year ago.
Many of my favorite blues come from Rogue Creamery. Founded by David Gremmels and Cary Bryant, the mission of the business is to help sustain the rural landscape and economy of Southern Oregon by making some of the world’s best cheese. That means you can fill your face with their cheese and still feel like you’re making a sacrifice for the common good. This is one of the few American companies that exports their cheese to France (Enough said?).
I sat down this week with Rogue Creamery’s talented cheese monger, Chelsea Faris, to learn more about Blue cheese, and in particular, Rogue Creamery's Caveman Blue.
MICHAEL: Why are people afraid of blue cheese?
CHELSEA: People tend to be scared of mold and potent flavors. People may have tried some blue cheeses that weren’t super quality and they thought that’s what all blue cheese taste like. I went to grade school in Ohio and then moved to Wyoming. We always stayed with the tried and true, cheddar. And being from Ohio, we would eat processed cheese. I didn’t taste a blue cheese until I was in my twenties.
MICHAEL: How is Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue distinct from the others?
CHELSEA: The texture is like peanut butter, super fudgy. We call it luscious [laughter] and it’s full of umami flavor without being too sharp or strong. It’s also Certified Organic. We called it “Caveman” after the mascot of Grant’s Pass, where the Rogue Creamery dairy is situated. We purchased the dairy a few years ago.
MICHAEL: What is your favorite way to enjoy Caveman raw?
CHELSEA: I really like Caveman on the raincoast crisps with a marmalade or pickled beets.
MICHAEL: So you like to go sweet?
CHELSEA: Yeah, it definitely can go that way. But I always enjoy savory pairings, too. You have to try it on a crisp romaine leave, with fresh or pickled beets, topped with orange zest.
MICHAEL: I will definitely try that. What is your favorite way to cook Caveman?
CHELSEA: This one time at David’s house (the co-founder), David threw an amazing dinner and topped it off with a Caveman soufflé! That is probably my favorite. Another one is Caveman s’amores (Below). It plays on the sweet and salty combo.
MICHAEL: What should people avoid doing with Caveman, or blue in general?
CHELSEA: You don’t want to cube or mash blue cheese. Serve it as a clean cut or crumble it into a bowl. You can also crumble it onto a cheese plate and round it out with crackers or nuts, so it doesn’t look like an accident. Maybe don’t make a milkshake?
MICHAEL: Really? I think a vanilla and blue milkshake sounds pretty good. What about ice cream?
CHELSEA: Salt and Straw, an ice cream parlor in Portland, makes a blue cheese ice cream with candied pear. I tasted it and thought, this is awesome. I’ll leave it to the chefs to figure out.
MICHAEL: What blue cheese would you recommend to an blue-phobic customer?
CHELSEA: We make 9 different blues, they’re all different flavors and textures, so there is probably something here that customer will like. If they gravitate toward milder flavors with sweet cream or fruit I would always recommend our signature classic Oregon Blue. However if you like mushroom, umami earthy flavors Caveman may be the right fit! For the adventurous try Smokey Blue, it’s unlike any smoked cheese you’ve ever tried and it’s candied bacon flavor is out of this world! Some like this and not other blue cheeses.
MICHAEL: What is the strongest blue cheese you recommend to a blue cheese lover?
CHELSEA: Age and distinction will attract blue fans. We have a mixed milk Blue called Echo Mountain that has 2 years of age on it, and of course you can’t leave out the famous Rogue River Blue! Aged 12 months before getting wrapped in syrah grape leaves that have been soaked in pear brandy. We actually have a blue called “Brutal Blue” that’s aged more than 2 years. It can be any of our core blues with the exception of Smokey. Just has to reach a certain flavor profile.
MICHAEL: Why is it a good idea to bring a blue cheese to the party?
CHELSEA: Blue cheese is a great way of rounding out someone’s cheese board. You can also get blue cheese from different types of milk. We have a lot of holiday parties around here and if I don’t bring some blue, people are disappointed. I’ll bring it as a stand-alone or incorporate it into a dish, which can make it a bit more approachable.
*Thanks to photographers Jon Jensen and H. Sterling Cross for the Rogue Creamery photos.
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