Why Blue Cheese Deserves a Place on Your Cheese Board
Whether it's Stilton or Gorgonzola, blue cheese is distinctive in look and flavor. Here's what to know about this unique group of cheeses.
If you've been following our cheese primer series, you'll know that Elizabeth Chubbuck, SVP of sales and marketing at Murray's Cheese, has been sharing her expert fromage knowledge with us. And couldn't we all use a little help in that department? Whether you're a fan of fresh varieties (such as mozzarella and ricotta) or those that fall into the semi-hard category (including everyone's favorite, cheddar), expanding your understanding of the main types of cheese ensures the grazing board you make for your next gathering will be a major hit. Today we're talking about blue cheese, which includes Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Cambazola, Stilton, and Maytag blue. Here's what you need to know.
What Is Blue Cheese?
Blue cheese can be generalized as any cheese with those distinctive blue veins running through it. And yes, those blue veins appear thanks to mold (and yes, it's perfectly safe to eat since it gets broken down by enzymes in the cheese). A type of mold called penicillium (the same kind that is used to produce penicillin) is added to the cheese, which is then poked with needles to allow airflow-and the resulting oxidation-to go through the cheese. Blue cheese can be made from any kind of milk (sheep and cow's milk blue are the most common but goat blue cheeses can be spectacular).
What Are Some Defining Traits of Blue Cheese?
The defining trait of blue cheese is blue veins. But, as Chubbuck points out, the veins don't always travel throughout the whole cheese so to get a true sense of the nuance of that particular blue she suggests trying pieces with and without the vein. "Blue is the most commonly misunderstood category of cheese," laments Chubbuck. She says that so often people state that they don't like blue cheese even though they've only tried one or two kinds. "But blue cheese is not a single cheese, but rather a style of cheeses," she explains.
Gorgonzola, for example, has two expressions: piccante and dolce. Gorgonzola piccante, or mountain gorgonzola, has a sharp flavor and firm texture akin to stilton. The texture of gorgonzola dulce, meanwhile, "is like if real pudding and bread pudding got together and had a food mash-up," describes Chubbuck. The slightly sweet flavor of gorgonzola dulce "isn't particularly high on the blue flavor spectrum, but it's an intense flavor experience that is very different than other types of blues." As far as the flavor profiles of blue cheeses, Chubbuck says they can vary widely: "They can be anywhere from buttery and mushroomy and minerally to earthy, spicy, gamey, sweet, fermented, sour milk like buttermilk with tart lactic notes…" Some blues-particularly gorgonzola dulce and the pieces of stilton without a blue vein-can even taste like green banana.
How to Incorporate Blue Cheese Into a Cheese Plate
Although not everyone loves blue cheese (or at least thinks that's the case), Chubbuck advocates including one on a cheese plate. At the very least, "blues add visual diversity to the board." She points out that it's easy to get home from the cheese shop with a range of cheeses only to realize that they are all similar in color and shape. "So blues are a perfect way to add just something, a pop of color, that looks totally different," Chubbuck advises. For guests who are wary of blue cheese, Chubbuck suggests pairing it with a sweet component to make the maligned cheese more accessible. She loves pairing blue cheeses with things like candied nuts and ginger crackers. Give it a try!