“Dedicated to Sustainability, Service and Creating the World’s Finest Handmade Cheese.” As mission statements go, that one is a pretty tall order.
But Central Point, Ore.-based Rogue Creamery is making good on that mission. The producer of organic artisan cheese was the first Oregon company to achieve prestigious B Corporation (B Corp) certification from B Lab, based on its exemplary social and environmental performance. Moreover, Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue was named the World Champion at the 2019 World Cheese Awards in Bergamo, Italy — the first-ever American-made cheese to earn that honor.
Building on a firm foundation
Rogue Creamery has been in operation — under various names and ownership — for almost a century. As David Gremmels, president of the company (aka “Mr. Blue”) explains, entrepreneurs founded the company (then called the Rogue River Valley Co-op) in 1933.
“It was later purchased by the Vella and Viviani families,” he says. “I stumbled on Rogue Creamery 20 years ago looking for cheese for my restaurant, and instead of buying cheese, acquired Rogue Creamery.”
Prior to Gremmels’ purchase, Ig Vella had mentored many in artisan cheesemaking in the United States, notes Marguerite Merritt, Rogue Creamery’s marketing manager, aka “cheese emissary.” However, since Gremmels acquired the company, it has been focused on quality and innovation, as well as training a new generation of cheesemakers. The company has also grown by “leaps and bounds.”
Today, Rogue Creamery produces more than 20 varieties of handmade organic cheese. In total, the company offers 73 SKUs — organic blue cheese accounts for 31 of them, and organic cheddar accounts for 36. In addition, the company produces three SKUs each of the original-recipe Touvelle hard cheese (billed as an original recipe combining the best attributes of cheddar and Monterey Jack) and blue cheese powders, Gremmels says.
Rogue Creamery’s cheeses capture the flavor and spirit of the Rogue Valley in which they are produced. In addition to the World Champion Rogue River Blue (which is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves that are picked in the spring and soaked in pear liqueur), the company’s blue cheese originals include Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue, Caveman Blue, Crater Lake Blue, Oregonzola, Bluehorn Blue, Tolman Blue, Enraptured Rogue, Enraptured Blanc and Brutal Blue, Merritt says. Original cheddars include Jefferson (with Mild, 1-Year, and 2-Year age varieties), Cheese is Love extra-aged cheddar, Rogue’s Mary, Chocolate Stout, LaDiDa Lavender, Hopyard and Whoa Nellie Pepper.
Rogue Creamery’s cheeses are sold primarily in foodservice, specialty gourmet shops, natural and organic food stores, independent cheese shops and via e-commerce or mail order, Gremmel says.
“Our cheese is popular among chefs, particularly in upscale casual and fine-dining establishments, though we have dedicated customers in all sectors,” Merritt adds.
Right now, the company’s natural-rinded, leaf-wrapped (Rogue River), smoked and wine-soaked blues are the most popular cheeses, with the mixed-milk cheddars and Touvelle close behind, Gremmels says.
And Rogue Creamery plans to expand within the wine-soaked blue space, Merritt notes.
“[We] have partnered with Whole Foods Market to bring the Enraptured line of wine-soaked blue cheeses to American households from coast to coast,” she says.
Those wine-soaked products — along with Rogue Creamery’s other blues — really differentiate the company from other blue cheese producers.
“Our blue cheeses are distinctive: They are complex, bold, creamy and approachable all at once,” Merritt says. “I can’t count how many times I’ve heard a customer say, ‘I don’t really like blue cheese, but this is delicious!’ Our cheeses prove to the American consumer that blue cheese isn’t a boring category at all — that there are many different varieties and styles, all created for their own unique purpose.”
Rogue Creamery’s target customer also is distinctive, she notes. That person is “driven to make better food choices” and is seeking a cheese that offers “a phenomenal gustatory experience.” And he or she wants that cheese to come from a company that is committed to “sustainability, social equity and building a brighter future for all.”
A force for good
Speaking of a brighter future for all, in its quest to make the world’s finest handmade cheese, Rogue Creamery doesn’t lose sight of the service and sustainability aspects of its mission statement. As a certified B-Corp, the company uses its profits as “a force of good,” Gremmels notes.
“That means driving programs that aim to benefit our community, support those less fortunate, provide access to education and, above all, to inspire the next generation,” Merritt adds.
Gremmels says the company passionately supports its commitment to community, both socially and economically, through “robust volunteer programs, in-kind and monetary giving.” The company’s recent launch of the “Cheese is Love” program is an example of that commitment. Specially packaged “Cheese is Love” extra-mature sharp cheddar gives Rogue Creamery consumers the chance to help families in need.
“We donate a bar of cheese for every bar of Cheese is Love purchased,” Gremmels points out.
“The program feeds those in need in our area,” Merritt elaborates, “providing vital sustenance to our neighbors who were struck by tragedy last fall when the Almeda fire burned thousands of homes in our area.”
Rogue Creamery truly is a standout on the environmental sustainability front, too. For its efforts, the company took home the Outstanding Dairy Processing and Manufacturing Sustainability award in the 2021 Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s annual Sustainability Awards program.
One of those efforts is the Nellie Green Pedal Power Program, under which the company’s employees receive a monthly bonus for using more sustainable forms of transportation than traditional motor vehicles to travel to and from work. These transportation alternatives include bikes, cars that get more than 50 miles per gallon and public transportation, the company notes. Carpooling also counts. In 2019 alone, Rogue Creamery employees traveled 11,838 miles using more sustainable forms of transportation. (Rogue Creamery says it also gives a 10% in-store discount to customers who travel to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and Rogue Creamery Dairy and Farm Stand via bicycle.)
Rogue Creamery’s cheese plant operates with a focus on environmental sustainability, too. For example, 30% of the energy required to run the plant is supplied via solar panels installed on the roof (see the Inside the Plant feature).
Environmental sustainability is also a focus of the company’s 68-acre dairy farm in Grants Pass, Ore.
“Through organic farming practices such as intensive rotational grazing and seeding with native grasses, we are building topsoil, conserving water and encouraging birds, insects and other pollinators to flourish,” Merritt offers. “At our dairy, we give tours at every chance we can to local school groups, 4-H clubs and others to teach the next generation about the value of farming in a way so as not to deplete our resources, but instead to build them up.”
Rogue Creamery’s sustainability commitment also flows into climate change concerns. The company takes a proactive approach to summer’s drought and fire season. Through intensive grazing programs to build topsoil, fire-suppression efforts near buildings and fence lines, and the development of emergency-related communication systems, the company hopes to be better prepared for an event such as the recent Almeda fire, Gremmels says.
Merritt points out that wildfires, drought and climate change are of major concern to Rogue Creamery.
“The ‘new normal’ seems to be a trend towards the extremes,” she says, “and how do you build a consistent business that relies on agriculture in a time when extreme weather conditions are more and more the norm? By doubling down on our organic farming practices, we’re able to build soil health and resilience, hopefully mitigating the worst effects and allowing us to continue farming in our rural area for decades to come.”
For everyone connected to Rogue Creamery, making a positive impact in everything they do — “socially, economically and environmentally” — is critical, Gremmels says.
Merritt adds that the company also takes advantage of every opportunity to showcase the work it is doing to benefit the environment and the community — via a variety of channels.
“The goal,” she explains, “is to show customers and business leaders alike that there’s a better way to do business.”
Not standing still
Rogue Creamery might be the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, but the company is not resting on its laurels. New products and formats are in the works.
“We are offering convenient exact-weight cuts and crumble packs in the near future and adding a cheddar finishing spice, Cosmic Dust, to our Blue Heaven line,” Gremmels says.
Those products will build on those added earlier this year: The impacts of COVID-19 spurred the company to increase the availability of a variety of exact-weight blue cheese wedges for the retail marketplace, Merritt notes.
In addition, Rogue Creamery will aim to build its customer base by continuing to get the word out via social media, the Oregon Cheese Festival and other festivals, and key industry events such as the American Cheese Society Conference, Gremmels says.
“We have devoted followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter,” Merritt adds. “And now we are starting to explore TikTok!”
The company also plans to maintain its competitiveness by challenging its fellow cheesemakers to do better — in terms of product quality, responsible sourcing and being aware of their everyday impacts, Gremmels says.
“Artisan cheesemaking is not a competition,” he stresses. It’s an opportunity to inspire one another and share in the growth of our craft.”
And for Rogue Creamery, it is also an opportunity to further its mission to be service- and sustainability-minded while aiming to create the world’s finest handmade cheese.
“We will continue doing what we do best: making world-class cheese and sharing it with an ever-growing audience of cheese lovers around the world,” Merritt says. “We aim to become zero waste and support innovative packaging solutions that reduce our reliance on plastics. This means a focus on innovation — and a constant dedication to searching for better, more sustainable solutions in all that we do.”
Product development spotlight: Creativity intersects science and research
There is a good reason David Gremmels, president of Rogue Creamery, is known as “Mr. Blue.” His creativity in new blue cheese product development over the past 20 years has been nothing short of amazing.
“David Gremmels has been an innovator in artisan cheese since the day he purchased Rogue Creamery,” says Marguerite Merritt, Rogue Creamery’s marketing manager and “cheese emissary.” “Within a year of assuming ownership, he created the recipe for Rogue River Blue cheese, which was subsequently named the World’s Best Blue Cheese and Reserve Champion at the 2003 World Cheese Awards — only to be eclipsed in 2019, when it won the title of World Champion.”
Innovation — in blue and cheddar cheese and cheese packaging —is at the core of what Central Point, Ore.-based Rogue Creamery does every day, Gremmels points out.
“With over 36 organic blue cheese SKUs alone, we are committed to bringing more flavor diversity to our offerings in the years to come,” he notes.
Development of those offerings will require more than Gremmels’ creativity, of course. Rogue Creamery’s new product development process relies on science and research as well, Merritt notes.
“We draw inspiration from partners both in our industry and beyond — Including chocolatiers, brewers, winemakers and more — to dream up what new delicious cheeses we can create,” she explains. “Then our passionate team of cheesemakers works with David to bring our creative visions to life.”