Soil and water

What’s so special about Rogue Creamery’s Oregon Cows, which produce worldwide awards? See for yourself

How blessed are the cows of southern Oregon, who continue to rack up the best cheese prices for the little and mighty Rogue Creamery? Visitors to the riverside organic dairy at Grants Pass can see the royal treatment in action.

But beware: fancy foot baths and fitness trackers to delicious snacks and on-demand back scratches designed for the physical and mental health of cows, some humans may walk away feeling cheated.

These baby cattle graze on 65 acres of lush pastures along the banks of the Rogue River or roam their own way in a giant, open barn called the Cow Palace.

The prized cattle from the high-tech and convenient dairy, where handlers are trained to deliver soothing sounds and touches, are guided to different grassy pens every few days.

Is the extra care and freestyle routine meant to avoid boredom, a guest asked farm manager Audrey Stange during a recent visit to the dairy.

She smiled, then explained that these pampered cows only munch on grass that has reached its peak of protein and energy.

A healthy and hygienic environment, along with the beneficial land of the Rogue Valley – climate, soil and pure water – results in high-quality milk that produces trophies, said Stange.

Thousands of gallons of rich liquid are transported to the Rogue Creamery cheese factory in Central Point, where it is processed by the best cheese makers and aged in caves modeled after the best in Europe.

All of these meticulously managed ingredients have made the artisanal company famous for cheese.

In 2019, his Rogue River Blue was the first American cheese to win top honors at the World Cheese Awards held in Italy.

Last month, Rogue Creamery won six gold and two silver medals at the 2021 International Cheese & Dairy Awards, one of the UK’s biggest food festivals.

“Recognition at the International Cheese Awards is a huge honor,” David Gremmels, president of the company, said in a statement. “This is a testament to the expertise of our cheese makers and refiners, as well as the dedication and passion shared by each member of our company. “

And, of course, the cows – which everyone strives to keep stress free.

“Our cows have the power over what they do during the day,” Stange said. “They have the space to relax and the freedom to decide when they are ready to be milked.”

A radio frequency identification ear tag activates salon doors which open when a cow wants to be milked by robot arms programmed to be gentle.

Visitors were speechless from a window on Wednesday as Natalie the cow, distracted by treats, stood as the robot sprayed her udder with a mist of disinfectant iodine before fixing a milking hose.

Five minutes later, the robot gave the relieved cow a foot bath, then the doors opened to send Natalie to her choice of the waterer or the feeder, where there is always a place “at the table”. , indicates a sign at the certified level. – cruelty-free dairy.

Here, part of the herd of 125 mixed-breed dairy cows poke their heads through candlesticks to munch on organic alfalfa and a grain supplement chosen by a nutritionist.

Sizzle, a young Brown Swiss cow, is Stange’s favorite.

“She’s quickly licking the sides of her mouth,” Stange said, demonstrating with her finger going back and forth like a wiper, “and it’s hilarious.”

When Sizzle, Natalie, or one of the other cows wish, they can move around to have their backs scratched by a big blue-bristled brush, “like you see in a car wash,” Stange said. “Wouldn’t it be great to have this in your shower?”

More than a fashion statement, activity monitor collars that resemble Animal Fitbits track how much each cow moves to help chart their overall well-being.

Cows exercise a lot.

Trampling the rolling pastures does good for the cows and calves, which weigh around 1,500 pounds, and it aerate the grass and pushes organic waste into the soil, rebuilding the topsoil.

Heavy rotational grazing, as it’s called, is an alternative to repeatedly spreading fertilizer to grow grass and then mowing, Stange said.

The quality of milk and cheese starts with managing the pasture, said Stange, who confessed that she doesn’t make cheese: “I just enjoy it, I sell it and I eat it a lot.

The illustrative Rogue Creamery logo of Nellie Cow leaping over the moon appears on the tent roof of the Cow Palace. It’s an old-fashioned storybook logo, much like the Central Point Company, which was founded to help dairy farmers survive the Great Depression.

And, just like a fairy tale, the company has evolved to produce some of the the best cheese in the world.

Rogue Creamery has been operating continuously since 1933. During World War II, it supplied cheddar cheese to the war effort. In the 1950s, co-founder Gaetano “Tom” Vella created a blue cheese cellar like the ones he studied in Roquefort, France.

Oregon Blue was introduced in 1953, become the first cellar-aged French-style blue cheese made west of the Missouri River.

Gremmels, co-owner of the creamery since 2002, dreamed with ambition of an Oregon-inspired blue cheese. And it materializes.

Rogue River Blue is made from the distinctive tasting milk cows produce in the fall. The cheese wheels are wrapped in supple, locally grown Syrah leaves, soaked in pear liqueur, a nod to the heritage of the region’s vineyards and orchards.

Rogue River Blue in limited supply is aged for a year before being formally released around the fall equinox.

In 2003, Rogue River Blue caught the world’s attention by becoming the first non-European blue cheese to win the award for the best blue cheese in the world and the reserve champion at the prestigious World Cheese Awards, which was held that year in London.

Two years ago, the famous Rogue River Blue was rated better in color, consistency, texture and taste than 3,800 competitors, including the legendary Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, at the World Cheese Awards.

WATCH Rogue Creamery staff react after winning the World Cheese Award on The Oregonian / OregonLive Facebook Live

Farm manager Stange tells visitors that the creamery is also known for its sustainable dairy processes that reduce waste, packaging and energy consumption.

“We have solar panels at the dairy and at the Central Point production plant,” she said. “A driving force of the company is to ‘do the right thing’, and that includes doing the right thing for the planet. “

The company was named Oregon’s first public utility company (“B Corp”) – a certification based on its positive impact on the environment, workers and the community.

Two months after the Almeda fire in September 2020 devastated towns in Rogue Valley, the company launched a stand-alone Cheese Is Love campaign to help people in southern Oregon who have lost their homes and their means to sustenance in the fire or due to COVID-19. pandemic.

A matching donation is made for every $ 14 sale of an eight-ounce block of extra-aged cheddar cheese labeled Cheese Is Love.

Today, cheese lovers who flock to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop on Oregon 99 at Central Point quickly become wide-eyed by the assortment of artisan cheeses on display.

The most curious about the journey to the origin, the cows grazed 32 miles northwest.

Visitors gaze at the Cow Palace, a covered pavilion the size of a football field with perfect views of pastures and plenty of circulating breezes.

Although the cows show an easy recklessness, the people doing the tour depend on the fresh air when the gray water from the waste collection basin, which is part of the sustainable dairy’s wastewater recycling system, is released for wash the stable floor.

The children laugh when Stange warns them about the flowing river of manure. “They like the idea, but they don’t like it in practice,” she said. “This is our signal to leave the barn.”

On a recent tour, she took the time to answer a child’s question about whether a milking cow was a boy or a girl.

“There are no lactating bulls here, sorry to disappoint,” she said with a smile.

Stange, a former cheese seller who fled city life outside of Los Angeles to work for Rogue Creamery, speaks passionately about her new rural life.

“We are fortunate to live in a place where we always have access to a dairy and know where the milk comes from and what it looks like,” she said, pointing to the robotic milking parlor. “People go to the grocery store and buy things and don’t know where it’s coming from.”

The 20-minute dairy tour begins at the farm’s stand, which is stocked with locally made items like Angel Farm Pickled Garlic and Effie’s Homemade Cocoa Biscuits.

Visitors can order a grilled cheese sandwich – Touvelle Cheddar and Oregon Blue cheeses topped with honey on bread made by Boulangerie Coquette – and let the kids run around on the lawn near the picnic tables.

But a rule reminds everyone in charge. A large sign reads, “Hands off the cows.

Free tours are typically offered twice a day when the Rogue Creamery Farm is located at 6531 Lower River Rd. In Grants Pass is open. Hours of operation, which may change, are currently 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, with tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. No reservations are necessary, except for large groups, including school trips, which will be organized outside of public visiting hours. Call 541-471-7292 for more information.

– Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

[email protected] | @janeteastman

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