Ignazio ("Ig") Vella passed away last week at the age of 82. Vella, the owner of Vella Cheese Company in Sonoma and the maker of the famous Vella Dry Jack is one of the pioneers of the American artisan cheese movement. He's definitely the person most responsible for my love of great cheese.
As a kid growing up in Sonoma, Vella's was a regular stop. The musty stone building on 2nd Street East, just down the street from the Sonoma Plaza had the same feel as one of the many surrounding wineries, cool and damp, but instead of smelling like fermenting grapes, the smell of cheese wafted from the behind the counter. They made the cheese in the back, sold it in the front, and Ig, in his ever present white paper hat, always had a slice for the kids.
A couple of years ago I wrote in more detail about my memories of Vella's shop and its cheese, and Ig sent me an email thanking me and asking if we could talk on the phone. He wasn't interested in publicity, he just wanted to thank me and reminisce about the shop and his cheese. He was that kind of guy.
Rest in piece Ig, I'm sure there's a slice of some good dry Jack waiting for you.