Consumers have always been divided on the subject of blue cheese. Traditionally, they either love it or they hate it. Increasingly, however, as those who lay claim to the latter are exposed to the diverse range of blues available today, the line has become blurred. Additionally, as Americans continue to seek bolder flavors in all of their food, the category of blue-veined cheeses gets hotter and hotter.
How is it Made?
Variations occur in technique, as well as in the cultures used, but most blue cheese is made in roughly the same way. Mold spores, typically those of Penicillium roqueforti, are added to the milk in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. In most cases, the cheese is pierced with long stainless steel needles to create pathways for the mold to grow along. Oxygen is also necessary and so it's important that the curds remain loosely packed in order to leave tiny air pockets for the mold. For this reason, blues are never pressed but instead are turned regularly to let the weight of the curds force out the remaining liquid. Finally, the cheese needs to ripen in a room with low temperatures and high humidity.
- The discovery of blue cheeses was surely the result of an accident. The popular and logical story has a hapless shepherd forgetting his lunch of curds and bread in a cave for several days. When he returned, he found the curds had developed blue streaks (from the bread mold) and upon tasting it, he found it to be quite delicious.
- The mold that grows on bread -- Penicillium roqueforti -- and is used to make blue cheese is the same one that produces penicillin.
- Loaves of rye bread are still left to mold in the caves in which Roquefort is aged. The bread is then ground to a powder, which is then added to fresh curds for cheesemaking.
What do the blue veins do for the cheese?
Besides their striking appearance, the blue veins affect the taste of the cheese. The culture breaks down the fats and proteins, thus developing a more aromatic flavor and a smoother texture. The mold also transforms the acids in the cheese, which takes away any sour, milky flavor, and leads to more pronounced flavors.
How long have blue cheeses been around?
No one knows for sure, but we do have some clues. Written descriptions of this type of cheese came out of monasteries in about 800 A.D., and it is believed that Gorgonzola dates back at least to the 10th century. Roquefort was documented in the 15th century, but it is believed to have been in existence for hundreds, if not thousands of years before that time. Stilton gained fame in the 1700's, but is surely much older as well. Denmark began making blue cheese in 1874, and developed their successful Danablu, or Danish Blue, in 1927.
Are all blue cheeses the same?
All blue-veined cheeses have certain characteristics that unite them as a family, but there are great differences in texture, taste, and appearance among the world's great blues. They range from sweet, creamy, mild varieties to very assertive and crumbly ones. The color also varies from pale to deep burnt orange, and in some cases, the blue veins hardly show up at all, leaving only a distinctive flavor. It's best to try several varieties and decide which is best suited to your tastes and their desired usage.
Are blue-veined cheeses good for cooking?
Many of them make excellent cooking cheeses, as they bring bold flavor to sauces, dips, soups, and fillings for pasta, meat, and vegetables. For example, try Danish Blue with yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil for a wonderful salad dressing. Melted Roquefort and caramelized onions can transform a simple steak, and blue cheeses can also create a surprising new flavor profile for macaroni & cheese, cheeseburgers, and all sorts of casseroles.
Can you eat blue cheese if you're allergic to penicillin?
The main culture used to make blue cheese blue, Penicillium roqueforti, is the same culture that produces penicillin. However, the enzymes present in the cheese break down the penicillin and render it neutral, thereby making it quite safe. However, for the same reason, if you are taking penicillin, you should avoid eating blue cheese for the prescription's duration or it might make your medicine ineffective.
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