Reprinted from the August issue of Ink Magazine
When it comes to the blues, there does not seem to be any middle ground. Either you love them, or you really dislike them. Fortunately for me, I love them.
Blue cheese is basically cheese that has mold cultures of Penicillium Roqueforti (the stronger mold) or Penicillium Glaucum (the milder mold) added somewhere along the way when it is made. It can be added before the curd is set, after the curd is set or after some aging occurs. In some cheeses, culture is added by injecting mold into the maturing cheese. In the case of Roquefort, empty needles make small, deep holes, thus allowing mold spores in the air to enter the cheese naturally. With this process you will always see a greater concentration of blue along the needle lines.
Most of the blues are young cheeses; they can range from sixty days old up to six months. As the cheese matures, both the cheese and blue culture develop stronger flavor. One of the older, stronger blues is Cabrales from Spain. Made from a blend of cow, goat and sheep milks, this cheese is not only very pungent, it looks like it was overripe months ago. Cabrales has its popularity niche, and it goes well with dry red wines or aged Bourbon or Scotch. If you are not familiar with this cheese, it is best to taste before you buy.
People often comment that blues are very smelly cheeses. But, with few exceptions, I give that title to the washed rind family of cheeses, such as Stinking Bishop or Limburger.
It was once easier to break down the differences between blues, when most of them were only made from one type of milk. Nowadays, you will find many blues made from cow milk, sheep milk, goat milk, and even Buffalo milk. Some are now made with all the milks. The strength of the cheese is the biggest request when ordering, so we will break down the blue family by mild, medium and full character.
Cambozola Black (Germany)
This is a fan favorite in our store. When someone asks for a creamy mild blue, this is most often the one we go for. Invented around 1900, this cheese combines Camembert and Gorgonzola in the form of a triple crème (which means 75% butterfat). This is a nice introduction for non-blue cheese eaters. Even though there is a white, outer mold version, the black outer mold version is the best in my opinion.
St. Aģur (France)
Originating in 1988, this double crème blue enjoys great popularity. Although there are hints of soft ripening here, it is really a blue cheese. It is so creamy, even at refrigerated temperatures. Please note that many people ask for a spreadable blue. Truth be told, even crumbly blues become spreadable at room temperature.
Blue Castello (Denmark)
I was fortunate enough to be in the cheese business in the 1960s, when the manufacturers from Denmark asked if we, the Greenwich Cheese Shop, would be interested in testing a new product called Blue Castello. They sent us all kinds of samples, literature and even Blue Castello T-shirts to wear. Well, we did carry it, and it was a success. Similar to Cambozola, this is a very mild, creamy cheese that has grown in popularity.
Bleu D’Avergne (France)
This blue is named after the Auvergne region of South-Central France, where it is made. It uses the Penicillium Glaucum mold, giving it a nice, mild taste. This French cheese is very creamy, and it uses less salt than most blues. It was developed in the mid-1850s. This is our go-to blue. It has a great taste with a much lower price than most other blues, making it very popular. It is the new versions that automatically get labeled artisanal, along with the new high price.
This is one of the oldest recorded cheeses, dating back to the 9th century! Made in the Po Valley, this is a soft, creamy blue-green cheese that also uses the Penicillium Glaucum mold. Originally, gorgonzola was a cow’s milk cheese. Although it still can be made that way, we have recent versions made with Buffalo milk. In addition to this smooth creamy cheese, Italy also makes a firmer, crumbly style. This version is often used for salads, and many of our domestic Gorgonzolas imitate this model.
Stilton is one of the best and most popular cheeses from England. Its origin dates back to the early 1700’s. Originally made from raw cows’ milk, it is now only made from pasteurized milk. This cheese is known for its mild cheddar undertone. One of my favorite desserts is the combination of Stilton and sweet butter spread on a table water biscuit, with a glass of Port wine.
Full Character Blues
Made in the Village of Cabrales and its immediate surrounding area, Cabrales is made from cow, goat and sheep milk. It is one of the strongest blues we know. It has the appearance of being overripe when first looked at, and maybe at the second look also. I was not able to find a date of first production. Myth has it that long ago, a farmer left milk in a cave. When he returned to find the now very moldy and extremely ripe cheese, he tried it and enjoyed it.
This cheese has been made from both cow and goat milk since the 1800s. Very similar to its cousin Cabrales, it is a little less sharp. It comes from the Castile-Leon region in Northwest Spain.
The cheese used to be covered in a chestnut leaf wrap, which made its presentation authentic and very appealing to the eye. It now has a foil wrap, with a photo of a chestnut leaf. I was told this was due to new FDA regulations. This is lost in translation, if you ask me. The cheese still tastes the same and still looks overripe, at least by American standards.
Maytag Blue (Wisconsin, USA)
Yes, this cheese is made by the Maytag Appliance family. The idea was to create a Roquefort-style cheese, only made from cow’s milk. Production started around 1941. This cheese has been very successful, and I have been selling it for over forty years. It falls in the sharp category.
Danish Blue (Denmark)
This blue was first offered in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s a full fat (50%) cow’s milk cheese and fairly salty. It has been around for a long time, and it also has a low price – about half, as compared to most other blues.
Made in France and aged in limestone caves, this raw-milk sheep cheese is one of the best-known blues, along with Gorgonzola, Stilton, Danish Blue and Bleu D’Avergne. Between the sheep’s milk and the aging, this offering is quite sharp – definitely a Penicillium Roqueforti mold cheese. I like to spread or roll grapes in it and then top with crushed walnuts.
These blues were chosen because they have been around for a long time. They are the idols that the new artisanal cheeses chose to emulate. I guess I am giving credit where it is due.
Blue cheeses are very versatile. They are great for appetizers, desserts, anytime snacking and cooking. I love to melt blue on a grilled steak or especially a fillet, which is reason enough to eat meat. I also love them on salads. Where would a Cobb Salad be without a blue? And of course blue cheese salad dressing is my go-to dressing when enjoying fine wine with a meal. (A side note: When enjoying a good wine, I recommend staying away from any vinaigrette or any dressing using vinegar, as it will spoil the taste of the wine.) I always recommend freezing a piece of blue cheese, which makes it easy to grate on a salad. It will defrost in seconds, and you will not waste any cheese.
Hope you’re feeling the blues.