The story of blue cheese has been written over centuries, an evolution based on nature, chance, opportunity and the passionate devotion of cheese makers. Say Cheese presents it chapter and verse.
Referring to blue cheese as a single thing, an all-the-same entity, sells the category short, leaving huge parts of the story under-told.
People talk about German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers rather than dogs, Ferraris and Porsches instead of just sports cars. Doing so makes the topic colorful, more specific and personal. It becomes real.
In the same way, Roquefort, Cabrales and Gorgonzola bring extra layers of interest to the discussion, creating a truer, most complete picture of blue cheese.
Painted with broad brush strokes there are many similarities among the world’s many blue cheeses. They are by nature strongly flavored, complex and bold on the palate, salty, creamy and deliciously pungent. They have distinct color characteristics, often–but not always–marked with a network of blue veining that meanders throughout an ivory-colored canvas. They are ripened for a minimum of 60 days to reach their prime, with time spent in aging rooms or caves essential to the unique traits that define and set each one apart.
To bring vibrancy and a greater understanding of the broad family of blues, here’s a quick guide to mastering the blues.
Blue cheeses can be made from cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk and occasionally mixed milks. Nearly every country that produces cheese has at least one, and often more, blue. Although certain traits often overlap, the family of blues is marked by a remarkably wide range of flavors, textures and aromas. Salty is a word associated with them although blue cheeses in general have roughly the same amount as other cheeses.
Here are some prominent members of the blue family from around the world. As American-made cheeses continue to raise the bar in the world of blues, there are many excellent varieties worth trying. Be adventuresome, pick up a few and find your favorites.
As a general guideline, the soft, creamy blues will be less assertively flavored. Those who are gaining their footing in the world of blue cheeses might want to start there and work up to firmer textured cheeses.
Bleu D’Auvergne: This name-controlled, cow’s milk cheese from France is a bit crusty and reddish in color at the rind, well veined with a blue-grey network of interior mold, creamy and pleasantly salty. Closely related is Bleu des Causses, also made in France but not as easy to find in American markets. A bit richer and more complex than D’Auvergne, it is a raw milk cheese. Danish blue cheese, first made after World War II, is said to have been modeled after these two cheeses.
Cabrales: This is Spain’s most familiar blue, a salty, bold, sharp cheese of enormous character. Its name and artisanal production methods are protected by European law. The milk, often raw cow’s milk (or seasonally, goat’s and/or sheep’s milk), must be collected from herds within a specified area in the northern reaches of Spain. The cheese first is air cured and then cave aged for several months. The resulting mold infiltration, so dark it is almost purple, is irregular and heavily dispersed. Cabrales is great for eating solo, enjoying the many facets of its nature.
Cambozola: Made in Bavarian Germany since about 1900, the cow’s milk cheese combines two distinct styles from two different countries: Gorgonzola and Camembert. From Camembert it takes its form and creamy interior. Hints of Gorgonzola are apparent in its piquancy and blue striations throughout the cheese. Cambozola, one of the milder blue varieties, is ideal for cheese plates.
Gorgonzola: Italy makes many great cheeses and its most prominent blue-veined is a true treasure, a buttery-rich cow’s milk treat produced in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions. It tends to be a moist cheese with veining that is more green than blue. Depending on how long it has been aged, it is called either Gorgonzola dolce (two to three months old) or Gorgonzola naturale (which can be as old as six months). The younger cheeses are relatively tame–dolce means sweet while age amplifies the cheese’s salty, sharp nature. Melted with cream, Gorgonzola makes a simple, classic sauce for gnocchi.
Roquefort: No surprise that France’s most prominent blue cheese is considered among the best. Since the 1400s, French law has mandated that Roquefort can only be made in certain areas although the geography was expanded slightly in 1961. Made with sheep’s milk, authentic French-made Roquefort is creamy, crumbly and cohesive, rich in butterfat and endowed with an amazingly complex flavor. Because it is so nuanced, it is best to make Roquefort the star rather than an ingredient with other foods. Serve it for dessert with a sweet wine such as Sauternes.
Stilton: This is England’s king of the blues, a cow’s milk cheese of power and elegance. Traditionally made in cylinders that are taller than they are wide and weighing 18 pounds, the exterior is covered with a film of various molds. Inside is blue-green veining set amid cheese that, depending on age, is ivory to almost yellow. Still associated with the winter holiday season, it once was traditional to serve a whole Stilton to guests, scooping the cheese from the center.
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