There are many varieties of blue cheese from virtually all over the world, each with its own subtly distinct flavor and texture. Silverio Benitez, a sales associate at Dean & Deluca in New York City, discusses what to look for when buying blue cheese, as well as the differences among some of the major varieties.
When buying blue cheese, look for cheese that is ripe and has been aged and stored properly: It should have an ivory or straw color, with a fair amount of almost incandescent, greenish-blue mold. The cheese should be crumbly, yet firm enough to cut without falling apart. If you notice that the cheese is bulging or straining against the plastic wrap, be wary, as it's likely to be overripe. Also, avoid cheese that is overly blue or has any pinkish, brownish, or grayish interior discoloration; if it smells of ammonia, don't buy it. And stay away from cheese that looks oily, which suggests a lack of freshness or that the cheese has not been kept refrigerated.
Gorgonzola, Italy (Galbani brand)
The most famous cheese of the Lombardy region of Italy, Gorgonzola is creamy and mild with an almost sweet, spicy, earthy flavor. It is made from pasteurized cow's milk in two versions: sweet, or dolce, which is the familiar soft, mild, and pungent blue cheese; and aged, which is firmer and more assertive. The exteriors of both types are washed with brine during the ripening process, and the resulting surface bacteria creates the cheese's powerful aroma. The interior of an aged Gorgonzola is much whiter and has bluer striations than sweet Gorgonzola, which has more of a yellowish-ivory paste and greenish-blue mold striations. The dolce is a great dessert cheese, paired with pears or grapes.
American Blue, Iowa (Maytag brand)
Maytag blue is handmade from unpasteurized cow's milk in Newton, Iowa, and has established itself by word of mouth as one of America's best blue cheeses. It has a firm, crumbly texture that's great for salads and dressings. Its peppery flavor becomes more piquant with age and is very distinct from European blues; it has a creamy texture that coats the palate and fishes with a lingering, creamy aftertaste. It is aged for six months -- twice as long as most commercially produced American blue cheese -- in cellars carved directly into the side of a hill on the farm. Maytag blue is best enjoyed as an hors d'oeuvre cheese on crackers.
Danish Blue, Denmark (Flora Danica brand)
Danish blue, a cow's-milk cheese, is widely available in the United States under a variety of brand names, one of the best of which is Flora Danica. The stark white interior is stippled with dark-navy, almost ultraviolet bluing, which should extend right up to the surface. The flavor isn't complex, but is robust and hearty with a touch of ammonia. Its smooth texture is moist, unlike any other blue except aged Gorgonzola. A very flavorful cheese, Danish blue is an ideal addition to salads.
Stilton, England (Colston Basset brand)
Made from cow's milk, Stilton is England's only name-protected cheese, meaning that all of it is made within Stilton's legal domain. The flavor of a great Stilton cheese is very complex: grassy, rich, creamy, and sweet -- almost nutty -- while its texture is crumbly. Colston Basset is probably the most popular, well-known Stilton brand.
Roquefort, French (Papillon brand)
Roquefort, made from raw sheep's milk, should be crumbly but cohesive, holding together and not falling apart under its own weight. It is ivory in color, not yellowish, with many blue-green veins. Always taste the cheese first; if it's too salty, don't buy it. The mold for Roquefort is a natural rye mold. The makers bake a rye bread, allow it to mold, then grind it down to yield the bacteria for the bluing process, which makes for a somewhat nutty flavor. Roquefort is a good dessert cheese with fruit.
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