Cheese Festival Wrap-up

Ig Vella

Ig Vella keeps an eye on the creamery!

Another year, another visit to Central Point, Oregon, for the Oregon Cheese Guild’s annual cheese festival which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Rogue Creamery. The tent this year was much bigger and better which seemed to keep the 4,000 cheese lovers from becoming a crush. Like last year, there were all kinds of vendors in addition to cheese: a number of wineries, meats, bread makers, jams, chocolate, beer, soda and tea. There is definitely something for everyone there and I really liked the array of vendors. The festival does a great job of highlighting food purveyors in the Applegate and Rogue Valley — stuff that I don’t see up in Portland. The wine in Southern Oregon is quite good — it’s drier and sunnier down there and you can taste the difference in the kind of grapes they’re producing.

Steven Smith pours

Steven Smith pours his tea

The festival had three great workshops going — a cheese and wine pairing with Max McCalman the venerated cheese author who has written a number of must-have books for cheese professionals and enthusiasts including Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best and The Cheese Plate which is chock full of information on how to pair food and drink with cheese. He was promoting his latest book, Mastering Cheese: Lessons for True Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager. I attended the middle workshop, a tea (!) and cheese pairing with David Gremmels, co-owner of Rogue Creamery, and Steven Smith who has a long history with tea as the founder of both Stash and Tazo teas. He has a new line of eponymous teas and they are exceptional. More on that in another post! The last workshop was a cooking demo with Vitaly Paley, restaurant owner of Paley’s Place in Portland and I spied them setting up and was tempted but I just had to get back to the festival!

Fern's Edge Chevre

The ladies of Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy

I made a beeline for Fern’s Edge to get a round of their chanterelle-coated chevre which I missed out on last year (I think it’s the first to sell out) — wonderful and clean chevre base with a nutty coating of fresh chanterelle! Then I wandered and sampled and took in the crowd. Overall, I think people had a great time though I felt like there were some vendors missing. I know I personally was quite sad that Oregon Gourmet Cheeses is no more as I really enjoyed what they had at the festival last year and brought home a wedge of their Drunken Goat. I also felt like some of the cheese makers were holding back a bit on samples. I know that this recession has affected them in a big way and I hope that they are all able to weather this downturn and come out stronger at the other end. I love these festivals because they directly support small businesses that are making world-class products. When belts get tightened, we often cut back on luxury items and that includes fine foods. However, I’m happy to save my splurge money on some of the best and most innovative cheese that are being made right outside my front door. I encourage everyone to do the same.

Rogue Creamery Cheeses

The Creamery cheese case

The Rogue Creamery was an excellent host and I walked away with some yummy cheese. I’ve now been hanging around the cheese scene long enough that I’m starting to spot friendly faces and I spent as much time chatting and catching up with folks this year than sampling. Instead of staying in a yurt, this year we opted for a cottage in Ashland — two thumbs up on that! Ashland is completely charming and we loved all the food and beer we had there.

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Coming up — more posts on this weekend: tea and cheese pairing — does it work? How awesome is the beer in Ashland? And, where can I get the most unique chocolates in Oregon?

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