A handcrafted blue cheese aged in specially designed rooms that simulate the ancient caves of Roquefort, France and are then wrapped in brandy-soaked Syrah grape leaves has swept a North American cheese competition.

Oregon cheesemaker Rogue Creamery took the Best in Show award for its Rogue River Blue last week, beating out 1,676 cheeses from the US, Canada and Mexico - a record number of entries seen for the American Cheese Society, which hosted its 28th competition this year in Montreal, Canada.

It was also the first time the society held its annual event - the largest of its kind in North America - outside the US.

The cheese is made from the milk of Brown Swiss and Holstein cows that graze the pastures along the Rogue River in Oregon at an altitude of 503 m (1,650 feet), where they eat a variety of grasses, wild herbs and wildflowers supplemented with grass hay, alfalfa and grain grown on the ranch.

Turned by hand, the wheels are aged for up to a year and develop naturally occurring molds found in the Rogue River Valley, which impart flavors like woodsy pine, wild ripened berries, hazelnuts, morels and pears.

The Syrah grape leaves, which are macerated in Clear Creek Pear Brandy, also help preserve a moist, creamy texture.

Rogue Creamery won the same title in 2009 and just last month also won the silver medal for Outstanding New Product at the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade's annual Sofi Awards for its Flora Nelle blue cheese.

Meanwhile, tied for second place were a Canadian cheese - the Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar by Mariposa Dairy - and Cave Aged Marisa from Carr Valley in Wisconsin.

Rouding out the third spot was a cheese from Quebec, the Louis d'Or from Fromagerie Du Presbytère.

For a complete list of winners, visit http://www.cheesesociety.org/competition/2011-acs-judging-competition-winners/.

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