The Vellas are the most important cheesemaking family in the New World. After starting the Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma, California, Gaetano “Tom” Vella started the Rogue Creamery up in Oregon’s Rogue Valley in 1933. For decades both creameries made fresh cheese for locals, but over the decades both made impactful innovations. For Vella’s California Creamery, it was dry jack cheese, considered the first artisan America cheese style. Before that, Tom Vella smuggled mold back from Roquefort, France to make the Oregon Blue Cheese, the first cave-aged blue cheese produced in the American West. Since then, the Rogue Creamery has been run by Tom’s son Ignazio, a legendary cheesemaker in his own right. Eventually, in 2002, it was sold to passionate cheese preservationists Since then, blue cheeses of the Rogue Creamery have won just about every cheese award there is to win. Most impressively it’s one of the few American cheeses to be exported to the E.U. as a raw, artisan product. It’s known to be one of Queen Elizabeth’s favorites as well. Take that, France!
So, yes, the cheese is superb at the Rogue Creamery, but for hungry road trippers, it is fuel for stunning grilled cheese sandwiches that the Creamery sells to travelers. The Creamery does two varieties, a staple sandwich with that famous Oregon Blue Cheese, honey and cheddar, as well as a rotating seasonal second choice. When we went, it was a sandwich made with Hopyard, a hopped cheddar cheese.
The sandwiches are grilled on pan de mie using a panini press. About half the time the sandwich is being pressed, it’s on foil. This keeps the bread less burned and the cheese more melted. They take a few minutes to make, but they are made right. In the meantime, feel free to peruse the gift shop, and taste some of the legendary cheeses. Rogue River Blue is often considered one of the world’s finest. It’s a blue cheese cave-aged while wrapped in pear brandy-soaked grape leaves.
Sandwiches are wrapped in cheese paper and packed with care. At first bite, we knew the herbal hopyard cheddar grilled cheese was one of the finest grilled cheese sandwiches we’ve ever tasted. But it was merely prelude for the signature grilled blue cheese. Blue cheese wouldn’t melt as gooey, so it is suspended in meltier cheddar. The sweetness of honey offsets the salty pungent blue. The sandwiches aren’t large, but they are richly cheesed. Splitting one is a fine way to go.
For cheese geeks this is a required pilgrimage. For everyone else, it’s just a sensationally good grilled cheese that’s right off the highway.