Hooked On Cheese: An Oregon Love Story

Last Saturday evening, I trekked through the bitter cold down to the Lower East Side so I could meet up with my dear, perennially busy friend MJ. To lift my sprits – which, at that point, were frozen to the bone – MJ decided we should treat ourselves to some cheese and wine (which, to be honest, is not unusual for either of us). I'd just come from Ideal Cheese uptown, where I'd picked up nice wedge of Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue; MJ had some good wine on hand, so it was game on.

I had first tried Smokey Blue at the Specialty Food Association's Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January with Adrian Boswell, the cheese buyer for the famed London retailer Selfridges. We were on a mission to taste the best of American artisan cheeses and while scouring the aisles, I was happy to run into David Gremmels, the co-owner of Central Point, Oregon's Rogue Creamery and an all-around stand-up guy. I've known David for a while and am quite familiar with his outstanding cheeses. David and his partner Carey Bryant took over Rogue in 2002 from the legendary "godfather of artisan cheese," Ig Vella, and have continued making phenomenal cheese inspired by Vella's 80-year cheesemaking history. They run a state-of-the-art organic dairy in Oregon and focus on caring for and treating their cows in the most humane way possible.

Adrian and I made our way through a couple of David's cheeses and he insisted we try the Smokey Blue. Honestly, I'm not usually a fan of smoked products; they tend to have an overpowering flavor, or worse, can taste of Liquid Smoke, the horrendous instant-smoke additive. But Smokey Blue couldn't have been farther from my preconceptions – it had a light, distinctive smoky flavor that blended flawlessly with the three main tasting notes in blue cheese: cream, salt and the pepperiness from the blue. David explained to us that the cheese was cold-smoked over local hazelnut shells. It was perfect, and I vowed then and there that I'd be eating more of it in the near future.

Which brings me back to that freezing-cold New York City night: I'd brought the Smokey Blue, and MJ had a bottle of Knudsen Vineyards 2015 Chardonnay, a rare, outstanding Oregon wine. The crisp Chardonnay was the ideal match for the layered flavors of the cheese; it seemed like they were made for each other. The combo put a smile on both our faces and led to a festive evening, which included trying to put hats on MJ's cats. Yes, you read that right...but that's a story for another day.

You can follow Raymond's cheese adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and his website. Additional reporting by Madeleine James.