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Transformed into the best

Editor's Note - This is first of a two-part series about world-winning cheese made at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point using milk from the Klamath Basin. This week's story focuses on where and how the milk is produced. Next week's photo-story will examine the hand-milled cheese making process.

by Lee Juillerat

BONANZA - It starts here, at the Bonanza View Dairy.



Arie De Jong gives his son, Michael, 4, some time behind the wheel while doing chores at the Bonanza View Dairy.


It sometimes takes more than a year, but raw milk from the dairy's 900 Holstein milking cows is eventually transformed into cheese at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point.

Not just cheese. The world's best blue cheese.

Earlier this year, the creamery's Rogue River Blue Cheese was judged the world's best blue cheese for 2003 at the 16th annual World Cheese Awards in London. Judges rated it better than cheeses from all over the globe - England, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Australia and elsewhere.

It's the first time an American blue cheese has won a world title.

"The quality of milk is very important," says David Gremmels, the Rogue Creamery's co-owner. "We have to have excellent milk, fresh milk, to create our cheese."

Excellent milk is what Arie and Jenneka DeJong produce at their dairy. It's something the DeJong family has been doing since Arie's father, Elso, who had moved from Holland to Southern California with his family in 1949, bought what had been an 80-cow dairy in 1968.


Cows fill up on feed, which is mostly grown on the dairy's farmlands.


Over the years DeJong added land and cows. The Bonanza View now spans 1,200 acres, with 900 acres in alfalfa and wheat plus lesser amounts of oats and peas. The milking cows are part of a larger herd of 2,100.

Three times a day, each of those 900 cows are shuffled through the parlor in the milking barn, which operates almost 24 hours a day.

"More frequent milkings are better for the animal," says Arie, 42, who has been involved in the dairy since he was a child and served as its manager for more than 20 years.

"It's what I wanted to do. They asked me in first grade and I said I wanted to be a dairyman," says Arie, who graduated from Bonanza High School." We're outside. We run a business. We enjoy the challenge, the variety of work."

When Elso launched the business he did the milking. Now, with the never-ending operation, the dairy averages 15 full-time employees. Some are involved with the dairy cows and milking while others handle the farm operations. The dairy provides two-thirds of its own feed.

By late July, the dairy will be producing certified organic milk. It's been a four-year process, but Arie believes it's worth the wait, and the effort.


Crews hook up milking machines to 30 cows at a time at the Bonanza View Dairy. Cows are milked three times a day.


"It's definitely quite a process, and that's good. There's got to be a criteria. It's a pretty detailed process, but that's OK."

DeJong said that becoming certified organic, which largely means that no spray or chemical fertilizer is used on feed grown on the property or fed to dairy cattle, is possible because the dairy grows most of it feed.

"That's one reason we transitioned into organic," says Arie, who estimates the dairy's cows eat about 15,000 tons of feed annually - while also producing large volumes of manure that's used as a natural fertilizer.

Going organic is a lengthy process. One of the major requirements is documenting that no chemical or pesticides are used on fields for a three-year period. The certification also requires that, for another year, cows are fed organic products, and given no growth hormones. If farmers don't grow their own feed, Arie says the cost of organic feed can prove prohibitive.

"We like it in principal," says Arie. "It works for us."

The Bonanza View is really a combination dairy, farm and heifer raising operation - "We actually are three businesses in one. We basically have our own built-in ecosystem."

A fourth business might be the dairy's fertilizer operation. Manure from the cows is treated on the farm's network of ponds. Some is composted and put on fields, while other manure is mixed with water and spread by overhead sprinkler systems.

"Manure for us is as asset, not a liability," says Arie. "We have too much land so we are short on fertilizer. Without fertilizer you can't get crops to grow."

The heart of the dairy is a dairy homesteaded in the 1920s that was used during the Prohibition era to also produce bootleg whiskey. Elso, who lives in a house overlooking the ranch, gradually bought neighboring property, including three different small dairies. He had to retire from the dairy because of health concerns, so Arie has been actively involved and overseeing operations since he was a teenager.

"When I was 13, I was working on the dairy - spent all night milking cows," remembers Arie.

Just like Arie, the milking cows are busy and productive.

Each milking cow produces 6 to 8 pounds of milk a day. The collected 101 degree fresh milk is quickly chilled to 38 degrees and stored in bulk tanks, but not for long.

At 5:30 each morning, about 7,000 gallons of raw milk collected in the previous 24 hours is piped into a Farmers Cooperative Creamery refrigerated tankers and driven over the Cascades. Many days it goes directly to the Rogue Creamery, where a team of cheesemakers led by creamery co-owner Cary Bryant are creating an expanding variety of hand-milled blue, Cheddar and other cheeses.

"He likes the stability of what he's getting," says Arie. "Our job is to get them the best raw milk products we can. If we do a bad job on our end it's going to affect the final product."

Bryant and Gremmels are pleased with the Bonanza View's milk. They recently concluded negotiations to guarantee a continuing supply.

Ironically, the DeJongs have yet to visit the creamery, to see how their milk is processed, or to taste the Rogue Creamery's savory cheeses. They've been too busy working. That's part of the joy.

"We're outside. We run a business. We enjoy the challenge, the variety," says Arie. "We put food on the table."

Food, and delicious cheese.

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