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Blue Cheese: From Caves to Gourmet Crumbles
Among the ingredients that make many fine-dining menus unique is cheese—specifically, cheese that uses the sharp, tangy quality of the color blue. Read on to learn more about this colorful category.
It’s said that roquefort cheese was discovered when, three months after a shepherd forgot his lunch in a cave, he returned to find his cheese deliciously marbled and sitting beside a slab of moldy bread. The mold that transformed his cheese was most likely the very thing that now distinguishes blue cheese from other cheeses: Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum. These harmless molds, along with a few others, are introduced into curds during the cheesemaking process in order to create one of many styles of blue cheese. They break down some of the more complex, fibrous structures in the cheese as it ages, giving it a creamier consistency. Although flavor can vary greatly depending on the type of milk used and the aging process, most blue cheeses have a slightly sharp taste and aroma.
Cheesemakers can help the flavor-development process by needling the cheese, poking small holes in the surface to allow air to circulate more effectively. Doing so spreads the mold and creates the distinctive blue-green veins. Some producers opt for industrial processes that inject spores directly into the curds, and others pursue more traditional methods, such as allowing the molds to grow naturally on loaves of rye bread and then crumbling small pieces into the curds. Tradition has an especially solid grip on select varieties such as gorgonzola, stilton, and roquefort, which may only be made with milks from specific regions and must follow time-honored production methods.