Services For Legendary Cheesemaker Ig Vella Today

Vella took over his father's business, which included Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma, in the early 1980s.

Legendary cheese-maker Ig Vella has passed away at the age of 83, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports.

Ig Vella was the son of cheese-maker Gaetano “Tom” Vella, who founded in 1931 at the request of local dairymen.

Ig Vella took over the family business in the 1980s, becoming a prominent face in the growing arsenal cheese movement and one of the earliest advocates for the use of local dairies in the cheese process.

He lived a life dedicated to the production of quality cheese - as the Press Democrat writes, "Rarely seen without his trademark white paper cheesemaker’s cap, Ig was an opinionated and outspoken part of the cheese making community and the tight-knit community of the town of Sonoma." 

His work paid off: in 2006 Vella was awarded the American Cheese Society's first "Lifetime Achievement Award," and Vella cheese was named a "cherished food" in Slow Food's 'Ark of Taste.' Accomplished in the political sphere, Vella has served as director of the Sonoma County Fair, and a Sonoma County Supervisor and in 2006 Sonoma's Riverside bridge was re-dedicated the "Ig Vella Bridge."

Yet he continued to focus on the basics of farming and cheese-making.

"Quality starts in the pasture," wrote Ig Vella on the Vella Cheese Company website. "Every cow is not the same. Every day is not sunny; every blade of grass is not green and lush. But, if you insist on the finest breeding of herds, the finest feeds, the greatest care in milking and transporting the top grade milk, so that you have the best possible natural raw material, you have set the stage for super cheese....What has built our reputation over the years since my father had his first conversation with the dairymen, has been our hour-to-hour personal attention."

Services for Vella will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, June 17 at Church. Check back here for updates.

Eran Glago June 10, 2011 at 09:57 PM
I am very saddened to hear about the passing of one of my favorite Sonoma "mentors". During our time serving together on the Sonoma Valley Citizen's Advisory Commission, Ig always took me under his wing and helped me understand the opposing viewpoint. It was always a pleasure bumping into him at the Sonoma post office a few times a month, and he never missed an opportunity to stop and ask me how work was or how the family was doing. He was particularly interested in a foster child we took in, and always asked about her well-being. Once I asked him who I had to kill to get a bridge named after me, and he just laughed. Ig was a Sonoma treasure, and I will miss him.
Peter June 11, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Tourists always ask me what I like to do in Sonoma when they come in to my bead and jewelry store on Broadway. I almost always tell them that my favorite thing to do is walk up the plaza, go up to Spain St. Turn right and continue to 2nd Street East. Turn left. Take in the Clydesdale horses and continue up to Vella Cheese. Go in and if you're lucky Ig will be there. Purchase great cheese at real factory prices. Take in The Patch across the street for fresh vegetables. Walk back and enjoy rural and historic Sonoma a block off the Plaza. Tourists were in the shop one Sunday morning and a couple Sonomans. I suggested they go to Vella's. One of the locals said she didn't think they were open on Sunday. I called Vella's. Ig answered the phone on the second ring and confirmed that they were closed on Sundays. I didn't know him very well but I really admired him a lot.


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