Phoenix based cheese maker Rising Sun Farms won two awards this month at the 2007 American Cheese Society competition held in Burlington, Vt.

They received 1st place in the "low-fat flavored" category for their Lite Pesto Dried Tomato Torta and third place in the "cheese spread" category for their Marionberry Cheese Torta. This years entries numbered 1,208 making it the largest American cheese competition in history.

Rising Sun has been packaging pesto and sun dried tomatoes since 1985 and began producing the tortas soon after. The regular version of the Pesto Dried Tomato Torta has received numerous awards, but this is the first time the low-fat variety has received recognition.

The Marionberry Cheese Torta is a showcase of the effort Rising Sun makes to utilize local ingredients; it is composed of Oregon grown marionberries, hazelnuts, apricots and cranberries.

"We try to buy ingredients produced in Oregon; if they are not available we expand our search to the Pacific Northwest. That ensures that everything tastes fresh," said Elizabeth Fujas, who founded the company with her husband Richard.

This is the third year they have submitted entries to the American contest. According to Fujas, participating in events like these have helped make their products great.

"The judges will tell you why you receive a high rating but will also point out areas where there is room for improvement," she said.

Earlier this year, after creating several chocolate themed tortas for the Ashland Chocolate festival, they decided to bring the Mocha Espresso Cream Cheese Torta to London for the World Cheese Awards, where it received a bronze medal.

"It is fun to be included in international events," Fujas said. "All of the sudden American cheeses have been bringing up the standard and are doing quite well at the World Cheese Awards."

Not originally intended for public production, the chocolate based Torta, after many requests, is now available in Rising Sun's tasting room and will begin shipping in two weeks.

The Fujas family is primarily concerned with providing the "highest quality clean ingredients, while supporting organic and sustainable agriculture," according to Rising Sun Farm's mission statement. Because organic varieties of many of the herbs and fruits in their creations are not widely available, Rising Sun instead guarantees the quality of their product by submitting random samples from every supplier to an independent lab where they are tested for harmful additives and pesticides.

"If the suppliers we work with are not certified organic, we at least want to know that the ingredients they supply us with are clean," she said.

Rising Sun Farm itself has been the recipient of awards; in 1989 it was named Most Progressive Farm in Oregon by the Oregon department of agriculture.