Blue Cheese Deep Dive!

Blue Cheese Deep Dive!

The world of cheese is full of creation myths, legends and stories. They are mostly based on truths that have been spun into charming anecdotes to teach us about how some of our favorite cheeses came to be. Have you ever wondered how humans dared to enjoy cheese literally riddled with mold? Well, as the story of blue cheese goes, a young French shepherd was enjoying his lunch of some bread and sheep’s milk cheese when he spotted in the distance a beautiful young maid. Keeping some of his wits about him, the young man tucked his lunch away in a cool cave before going off to meet her. Some days later when he returned to that cave he discovered both his bread and the cheese to be moldy. Now this story leaves out just what inspired him to try that moldy cheese, but because he did we have the famous French blue, Roquefort, and so many more.

Blue cheeses can be made from cow, sheep, or goat’s milk or any combination of the three. Imperative to all of them though is the presence of either Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum. While the fable is a bit far fetched, Penicillium roqueforti traditionally has been multiplied by leaving rye bread to mold in caves, but only a few producers still use this method. Depending on the cheese these molds are introduced either directly into the milk before it is curdled, or mixed into the curds as they are cut and stirred. Blue cheeses are usually soft or semi soft, from crumbly to creamy and fudgey and are either rindless, like gorgonzola or have a dry natural rind like English Stilton. In order for the Penicilliums to grow they must be introduced to oxygen which is facilitated by the loose curd structure and the eventual piercing of wheels with needles. As the cheeses age and the molds feed off the newly received oxygen the wheels will begin to develop their respective and distinctive striations and spotting of blue and green coloring. 

Blues bost a variety of tasting notes from mellow nutty and sweet, earthy and mushroomy, strong and piquant, even chocolatey. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites to share with you. After all, do you even like cheese if you don't like blue cheese? 

Let’s start with the molds namesake and famously strong French blue, Roquefort. This raw sheep’s milk blue is named for the region Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in Southern France and has been produced since at least the 14th century. Roquefort is a name protected cheese and therefore must adhere to certain guidelines. It must be made from the milk of the Lacaune sheep and spend it’s early aging in the limestone caves of Cambalou. Roquefort has distinct blueish-green pockets of mold evenly distributed throughout the ivory paste and is sweet, fudgey and at times gives some piquantness. This king of blues can be enjoyed in a number of ways; in salads, alongside meats, or simply taken with a sweet dessert wine.

Fourme D’Ambert, another great French blue, made in the Auvergne region, gets its name from the traditional wooden forms used to give its distinct tall cylindrical shape and was originally made from the milk of cows who grazed in the pastures in the town of Ambert. The milk is inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti before it is curdled and this gives the cheese evenly distributed blueing of little specks. Fourme d’Ambert has a gray-blue rind and a dense, fudgey ivory paste. It tastes of sweet cream with a deep earthiness which pairs beautifully with pears and port.

The great Italian Gorgonzola is perhaps Lombardy’s most famous cheese and is one of Italy's most exported cheeses along with Parmigianno Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.  This cow’s milk soft, creamy cheese was developed from necessity of having excess milk and is a mix of morning curds and evening curds. Gorgonzola is made with Penicillium glaucum and was originally left to mold naturally from damp cave walls but the make has since been altered to enhance the mold growth. The layering of the curds creates that creamy texture and allows for air to flow, providing an ideal set up for mold growth. Gorgonzola is typically described as dolce or piccante, sweet or spicy. Gorgonzola piccante is drier in texture than dolce and as the name suggests has a peppery, spicy finish. Gorgonzola dolce is nutty with notes of vanilla and pairs beautifully with fruit and can stand up to a bold red.

We’ll end our blue tour with an American beauty that has gained recognition and popularity at home and abroad. Bayley Hazen Blue, made at Jasper HIll in Vermont is a raw cow's milk blue named after an old military road in the area.  Of the three previous cheeses Bayley Hazen finds itself in the category of a drier blue with a powdery natural rind. A wheel of Bayley perfectly illustrates the way in which piercing helps mold growth; you can often see thin streaks running through the golden paste where the needles were inserted. Once you taste Bayley Hazen you’ll understand it’s popularity; buttery, grassy, nutty, and a little salty, it is addictingly mouth watering. We love Bayley every which way; in salads, with honey and fruit, or with some good dark chocolate and a port or ale.

We hope you'll take a cue from that love struck young shepherd and take a chance on these beautiful blues!