One of the most remarkable aspects of Oregon hazelnuts is their versatility. The list of food innovations created with hazelnuts is always growing. You’ve probably heard of hazelnuts with chocolate or hazelnuts providing the crunch to a green salad, but have you heard of hazelnuts and blue cheese?
At Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, they use Oregon hazelnut shells to smoke their best-selling cheese, organic Smokey Blue. Not only are these cheese wheels organic and delicious, but they are also produced using shells that are sourced locally from an area hazelnut farmer. In 2006, Smokey Blue was the first smoked blue cheese to be introduced to the international market; the next year, it was honored with the prestigious SIAL Innovation Award.
When Rogue Creamery first began making Smokey Blue, they experimented with using different types of wood to create the smoke. During this process, they discovered that smoke produced from burning hazelnut shells provided more umami, savory flavors than the smoke from traditional barbecue woods.
The creamery cold smokes the cheese wheels for 14-18 hours. They use a special smoking chamber that prevents the shells from actually coming in contact with the cheese. Using about one pound of shells at a time, they burn them and vent the smoke into a refrigerated smoking room, where the cheese wheels are waiting to absorb the smoky flavor. Rogue Creamery uses about 500 pounds of hazelnut shells, annually, to create this decadent cheese.
Smokey Blue and the rest of the Rogue Creamery cheese lineup are available via their online store, roguecreamery.com, as well as at cheese counters across the USA. In the Pacific Northwest, that includes Whole Foods, New Seasons Market and many independent specialty cheese shops.