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Rogue Creamery's 80th Anniversary

Rogue Creamery's 80th anniversary kicks off in February 2013, with celebrations planned throughout the year and a whole new look that was showcased at Fancy Foods San Francisco in January. Here's just a taste of Rogue Creamery's re-branding in our anniversary shield. The shield's elements draw on Rogue Creamery's essential beliefs using beloved symbols: the blue, blue skies of Southern Oregon and the blue depths of Crater lake. The blue is also the blue of Rogue Creamery's 1948 Dodge truck that you'll often see outside the Creamery, or leading our team in parades. We've got dear Nellie of course, and also the winged bird from Oregon Blue's label, and the delicate flowers shown on Flora Nelle Blue's label. All these elements reflect Rogue Creamery's deep comitment to the land and animals that feed and comfort us all.

The first Central Point creamery opened its doors in 1933 as, when things, as you might expect, were a bit different in the Rogue Valley. The original cheesemakers did not exactly find the welcoming community that we have come to know and love. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Local farmers were suspicious of new creameries and cheese factories. According to Oregon cheese historian Tami Parr, “The farmers didn't want to become financially dependent on a factory and then have it pulled out from under them by people who didn't have any particular loyalty or interest in the community.” These suspicions kept local dairies from sending enough milk to the new creamery and without this key ingredient, the creamery was not able to sustain itself.

However, before the doors could close for good, in came Tom Vella and Celso Viviani, who purchased the creamery in 1935 and changed the name to Sonoma Valley Cheese Factory. Vella and Viviani used their financial backing from JL Kraft to support local dairies, earning them the trust that was difficult for the previous owners to find. The operation at Sonoma Valley Cheese Factory thrived. In fact, the new creamery, with its year-round employment and demands for dairy, even helped to keep many of those same suspicious farmers afloat during the trying times of the Great Depression. Soon after that, Sonoma Valley Cheese Factory used their resources to help the Allies during World War II, sending pounds upon pounds of cheddar to the troops overseas.

In 1948, Tom Vella become sole proprietor of the creamery and changed the name once again, this time to Rogue River Valley Creamery. But Tom had his sights set on making even bigger changes. In the early 1950s, Vella traveled to Roquefort, France where he studied the art of making blue cheese. He returned to Oregon determined to use these traditional practices to make a blue that would be new and noteworthy. Vella wasted no time and in 1954 debuted Oregon Brand Blue Vein Cheese, the first blue cheese to come from the west coast.

In 1998, after more than half a century of innovation and honing his craft to perfection, Tom Vella passed away at the age of 100. He left his creamery to his family with son Ignazio (Ig) taking over as Master Cheesemaker. Ig worked hard from day one to return Rogue River Valley Creamery to its glory days, which were still fresh in his memory.

In 2002, Cary Bryant and David Gremmels acquired Rogue River Valley Creamery from Ig Vella, under the condition that he stay on as master cheesemaker to teach them all he knew. The name was changed once again to the moniker it goes by today: Rogue Creamery.

With Ig’s help, Cary and David have committed themselves to maintaining and growing the creamery’s reputation. Just one year after they purchased Rogue Creamery, Rogue River Blue was crowned World’s Best Blue at 2003’s World Cheese Awards in London. The honor was a first for a U.S. cheesemaker and proof that Rogue Creamery was building on the rich traditions of Tom Vella. Since that first award, Rogue Creamery has continued to stand by these traditions, both in standards and craft. As Francis Plowman, Rogue Creamery Director of Marketing puts it, “The tradition of the years enables innovation.” Standing on the shoulders of giants like Tom Vella, Rogue Creamery looks forward to bringing unique, handcrafted cheeses to Oregon and the world for another eighty years.

Stay tuned to our Rogue Creamery newsletter and Facebook page for updates about our anniversary celebration, with events planned throughout the year.

posted February 2013