Celebrating American Blue Cheese

There are a wide range of flavors and varieties for differing consumer tastes

During these difficult times for imported cheese, it is important to remember that American blue cheeses rival the best the world has to offer. They range from completely original to cheeses made with techniques borrowed from the best of the European cheesemakers. While European blues are amazing and unique, American blues can fill any niche in the cheese case with remarkable ease.

When it comes to the best of the blues, Rogue River Creamery out of Central Point, OR, comes to mind. Their iconic Rogue River Blue recently achieved a mon- umental first—winning the coveted title of World Champion Cheese at the World Cheese Festival 2019 in Bergamo, Italy. 

Rogue River produces more than just Rogue River Blue. When Rogue River is not available, many retailers rely on Caveman Blue to fill the gap. Available year round, this stunning blue has many advocates in the cheese community. 

In fact, Rogue has more than a dozen different blue cheeses. “I’m not going to stop creating new recipes of blue,” says Gremmels. “I haven’t hit 24 recipes yet, but I’m working toward it. I am always experimenting with new blues.” 

The most popular deli blues from Rogue Creamery are Oregon Blue, Smokey Blue and Caveman Blue, says Gremmels. Caveman is a natural rind cheese, while Oregon Blue is rindless. 

Rogue’s original Oregon Blue, artisan-made since 1957 in Central Point, OR, was modeled after Roquefort. “We have a legacy here of nearly seven decades,” he says. “Satisfying a range of palettes, Oregon is the more approachable, sweet, savory, fruity, creamy blue that we offer at deli level. It is great as stand-alone wedge or crumbled in a potato salad or atop a por- tobello mushroom.”

Focusing on French Styles 

Based on a French style of cheese- making, Original Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. is distinctly American, says Jill Giacomini Basch, co-owner and chief marketing officer for the company, which is headquartered in Point Reyes, CA. “It is a rindless blue and has an ultra-creamy texture, almost like butter, when served at room temperature. The flavor is full of sweet milky notes up front with a peppery finish.” 

Each of Point Reyes’ blue cheeses has its own personality, flavor and texture, says Basch. She recommends Bay Blue as a good first blue. “With its mild blue mold pungency and sweet finish, we often refer to it as a gateway blue. People that think they don’t like blue cheess try it and can’t believe how much they love it. Before they know it, they are moving on to stronger blues, like Original Blue.” 

Winning first place for blue-veined cheese at the 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in Green Bay, WI, Original Blue is a good choice for consumers who love classic blue cheese flavor, says Basch. 

In addition to whole-wheel formats that are great for cut-to-order environments, Point Reyes’ Original Blue and Bay Blue come in pre-cut and wrapped 6-ounce wedges that are perfect for the cheese case in any deli grab-and-go environment, says Basch. Original Blue also comes in crum- bles in No. 5 Cryovac bags, which work in foodservice departments and can be put in cups for customer convenience.

Great blue cheese varieties can be found in packaging convenient to retailers with- out extensive cheese departments and to customers who may be intimidated by cut- to-order departments.

Moving to Italian

Italy’s Gorgonzola is the classic Italian blue cheese from Italy, but the United States has rivals that are as good—or bet- ter—depending on who you talk to. They certainly are very popular and a must-have for an American retailer. They also are much less expensive and affordably priced.

American Gorgonzolas have been responsible for introducing many Americans to this Italian style of cheese. While Italy’s own Gorgonzola is amazing, it is also expensive and difficult to ship to the U.S., putting it out of reach for many American consumers. 

Once such company is Green Bay, WI-based BelGioioso Cheese, Inc., a cheesemaker that produces a wide range of Italian-style cheeses, including a clas- sic Gorgonzola Dolce—the creamier and sweeter version of Gorgonzola. 

According the Jamie Wichlacz, BelGioioso’s marketing manager, “We actually craft four different types of blue. A favorite is CreamyGorg, a Gorgonzola Dolce that is aged 90 days, which has a natural rind and creamy interior. It is easily spreadable and ideal for melting into sauces.

“Our Crumbly Gorgonzola (aged 90 days) and Blue Cheese (aged 60 days) have a firmer texture that makes it easy for customers to slice for sandwiches or crumble on salads. We also have a Crumbly Gorgonzola that is made with cow and sheep milk (aged 90 days), giving it a slightly smoother texture and a deep rich flavor.”

All of BelGioioso’s cheeses come in whole wheels and packages that make it easy for supermarket deli retailers to sell in self-service cases and in sizes that work for customers. What is never compromised is the quality of the product. 

Another recent winner recognized in the global arena is Roth Gorgonzola cheese, made at the Emmi Roth plant in Seymour, WI. It just received the Best-in-Class award at the 2020 World Championship Cheese Contest held in Madison, WI. 

Other award-winning Roth blue cheeses, such as Buttermilk Blue and Smoked Moody Blue, are made “to be bold, yet approachable,” says Abby Despins, director of communications for Emmi Roth. “They are tangy and earthy to appeal to blue cheese lovers, but also have a mel- low creaminess to be enjoyed by anyone.” 

Roth Buttermilk Blue is sold in wheels, retail cuts and crumbles. Roth Buttermilk Blue Affinee is aged for more than six months, “for consumers who want an even more rich, piquant and earthy flavored blue cheese,” says Despins. 

This year, Emmi Roth will be introduc- ing new packaging and labels for its Roth Blue Cheese line. Also new is Roth Flavor Ups Blue Cheese Crumbles, being mar- keted to both retailers and foodservice operators. “It’s ideal for salad bars but can also be used in retailer-made meal kits or in the convenience/snack area of the deli for shoppers,” says Despins. 

“We believe in the blue cheese category and see individual blue cheese crumbles as new way for consumers to enjoy blue cheese,” says Despins. “Our Flavor Ups Blue Cheese Crumbles are designed to give today’s busy consumer a convenient way to upgrade their meals, whether they are dining at home, at their desk or at grab- and-go lunch areas.” 

The cheese experts at Emmi Roth have invested in learning and understanding cheese buyers and consumers, and what they need when shopping the deli, says Despins. “We know the deli cheese case can be confusing and overwhelming to consumers, and we’ve taken steps to help them navigate buying cheese by adding pairing and serving tips on the front of all of our packaging.”

Uses in the Deli

The consumer options are endless, says Basche at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. Bay Blue is a great topper for a succulent steak or burger, shaved onto poached pears or grilled peaches or melted into mushroom risotto. Original Blue can stand alone and be used to top salads, melt onto burgers and steak and mix into pasta, risotto, scrambled eggs or mashed potatoes.

Delis can use blues to enhance their own offerings by adding blue cheese options to made-to-order sandwiches or take-out salads. Salad options are endless. For example, a spinach salad topped with fresh pears and crumbled blue cheese is a refreshing example of a typical restaurant offering. Berries and blues are also favorite pairings for top- ping mixed greens. 

The meat case is an excellent option for cross merchandising. Crumbles can be dis- played next to steaks and burgers for added options. During these times, consumers will be looking to add variety to family meals and replicate favorite restaurant dishes.

Ultimate Pairings

Basch suggests pairing Original Blue with a vintage port and savoring Bay Blue alongside a glass of vintage port or bar- rel-aged scotch. 

In the Pacific Northwest, home of both California’s Point Reyes and Oregon’s Rogue Creamery, locals love to pair their tasty blues with northwestern IPAs and craft beers. Smokey Blue, for example, pairs well with a chocolate stout. 

Gremmels is enthusiastic when describing the combinations that blend beautifully with blue, such as Oregon Blue with pinot noir or burgundy, and “the mind-blowing pairings of bergamot teas and blue cheese.” “We always suggest pairing our Roth Blues with honey and dark chocolate,” says Despins of Emmi Roth, who also likes to match blue cheese with pears, figs, a full-bodied red wine or gin. DB