There is a lot more to blue cheese than sad dry crumbles in a salad or gloopy wing sauce. We love blue cheese in all of its forms. —INGRAIN, Fall/Winter 2019
STORY / Cara Condon
As someone who has spent years peddling cheese both professionally and recreationally, I know that blue cheeses have a tough reputation. People will proudly and confidently proclaim they do not like them, then seconds later admit they are just too scared to try them.
The major myth to dispel? That blue cheese isn’t one kind of cheese but a whole family of cheeses with lots of relatives. There are spicy boys, loudmouths, and sweet angels. There are even smelly ones, just like your cousin Randy.
As with anything, there is a whole spectrum of blue cheeses. On one end, you have the piquant, almost spicy cheeses that leave your mouth with a pucker effect like a Jolly Rancher does. Then you have the toastier, rounder style of blue cheeses. With these, you can expect more sweet cream notes, some vanilla, and even burnt toast.
Oh and wait! There is another dimension to this spectrum, which is all about intensity. We can even talk about texture. Some blue cheeses are soft and spreadable, some are semi-firm, while others just crumble. See what I’m saying? There are so many different factors, we simply cannot just say “blue cheese.”
“EWW, IT’S MOLDY!”
All cheese is old milk! That’s the charm and one of the reasons cheese stuck around all these years. It was a clever way to preserve the milk supply, a crucial resource in a farming family. We rely on various molds and yeasts to ferment the milk in order to transform it. With blue cheeses, the molds in charge are from the penicillin family, namely Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium glaucum.
Molds are aerobic, meaning they require oxygen to grow. Sometimes this means the curds are only loosely packed, creating air pockets where the inoculated milk will have some access to oxygen and bluing can take hold. In many cases, the cheesemaker will stab the cheeses (not actually that violent) to create air flow and allow those molds to have a lovely place to live and thrive.
CARA’S TIP Still slightly unnerved or uninterested in blue cheese? Try Chiriboga Blue, a Bavarian blue cheese made by Arturo Chiriboga. It’s the perfect “training wheels” blue, a rather mild one with notes of rich, sweet cream, a slight mushroom earthiness, and almost marshmallow-like texture. This cheese isn’t excessively salty or strong. And to say it’s a perfect starter blue cheese isn’t to say it’s boring or lame at all. It has the grace of opening your eyes to a whole new world, without dumbing itself down. One of my favorite pairings of all time is Chiriboga and piedras de chocolate (chocolate-covered Marcona almonds). Together they taste almost like a s’more and will truly blow your mind.
Is said to have been “invented” by a shepherd who spotted a cute girl and wandered away to find her. He came back to his cave a few days later to find that his cheese had molded. What happens next is crazy...this wild guy ate the freaky-looking cheese and discovered it tasted awesome. (Really let that sink in. It’s insane.) Later, in 79 AD, it is thought that Pliny the Elder was writing about Roquefort because he loved it so much. This French sheep’s milk blue is on the more intense end of the blue cheese spectrum.
Was first produced in the Italian town of Gorgonzola in 879 AD and is considered one of the oldest blue-veined cheeses in the world. There are two styles of Gorgonzola: dolce, the softer, sweeter one, and piccante, which has a little more bite and a drier texture. Nowadays, this delicious cheese is produced in northern Italy, specifically in the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont.
Is a Spanish blue cheese from the northern coast near Asturias and is typically made from cow’s milk, though sometimes it can be made from a blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk. Unlike most blue cheeses, Cabrales begins to cure from the outside of the cheese and the mold works its way inward. It is one of the most intense blues out there, with a big, salty, acidic bite. Definitely not for the faint of heart, it has a spicy quality that lingers for a while after that first taste.
Is an iconic British cheese, coming in second only to cheddar, and has been made since the early 1700s. It is named after the English village of Stilton, but by law it isn’t actually allowed to be made in the town. It’s a wonderful, classic holiday cheese—just don’t you dare put this baby in a corner. It should really be enjoyed year-round.
For a tasting guide, check out Tasting Blue Cheeses.