What Is Blue Cheese?
Production, Uses, and Recipes
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Blue cheese is a generic term used to describe cheese produced with pasteurized cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk and ripened with cultures of the mold penicillium. Blue cheese generally has a salty, sharp flavor and a pungent aroma. It is often relatively low in fat but has a high sodium content. Blue cheese is a good source of protein, calcium, and phosphorous.
• Source: Cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk
• Origin: France and Italy
• Flavor: Traditionally sharp and salty with variations
• Rind: Edible
What Is Blue Cheese?
Blue cheese is thought to have been invented by accident when cheese was stored in temperature- and moisture-controlled caves during the Middle Ages. It’s believed that at one point a half-eaten loaf of bread was left behind in a cave by a cheesemaker in Roquefort, France, and, upon his return, he discovered that the mold covering the bread had transformed the cheese into blue cheese.
There are many varieties of blue cheese. Early versions were produced in France and Italy, and later versions evolved throughout Europe and North America. Depending on the blue cheese, the texture and flavor vary from crumbly, weepy, salty, and sharp to softer, creamy, and mildly earthy. Some versions are enriched with cream and have a soft middle and a bloomy rind. No matter the version and flavor profile, blue cheese is characterized by green, blue, gray, or black veins or spots of mold throughout the body. Many varieties are available in supermarkets and specialty shops and range from inexpensive to pricey, depending on the source.
How Blue Cheese Is Made
Raw milk is pasteurized and then acidification occurs when a starter culture is added to convert lactose to lactic acid, changing the milk from liquid to solid. Rennet is added to help coagulate the milk, and the curds are cut to release the whey. The curds are drained and formed into wheels. At this stage, Penicillium roqueforti is sprinkled over the cheese, and the cheese is salted to prevent spoilage. The cheese is left to age for 60 to 90 days. The cheese’s signature blue veins are created during the early aging stage when the cheese is “spiked” with stainless steel rods to let oxygen circulate and encourage the growth of the mold. This is also referred to as “needling.” This process softens the texture and develops the cheese’s distinctive blue flavor.
While the mold cultures and needling contribute largely to the flavor and texture of blue cheese, other factors are always at play. The type of milk that is used (cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s), what the animals were eating before they were milked, and the slightly different cheesemaking techniques used by each cheesemaker ensure that every blue cheese around the world will have its own distinct flavor.
Types of Blue Cheese
Roquefort is considered one of the oldest blue cheeses, and it’s also considered a delicacy. Produced from sheep’s milk and aged in the limestone cliffs in the south of France, Roquefort is recognized for the blue veins stretching across its moist and crumbly body. It’s delightfully nuanced, both creamy and aromatic, complex and intense, with sharp and sweet flavor notes.
Gorgonzola is an Italian cheese produced from milk from cows that graze in the pastures of Lombardy and Piedmont. Young Gorgonzola is soft, buttery, and creamy with tiny hints of sharp blue. Aged versions are earthier, with a stronger flavor and more piquant bite.
Blue Stilton is a cow’s milk cheese produced in the English midlands. It’s a sturdy cylindrically formed cheese, beautifully marbled with streaks of blue. It has a slightly moist and crumbly texture with a rich, creamy, nutty, and salty flavor.
Danablu is a Danish cow’s milk blue cheese produced on the island of Funen. It has a creamy and smooth texture and a slightly sharp and salty flavor, which is similar to Roquefort but milder.
Double-cream blue cheese is a category unto itself, with a later arrival on the blue cheese timeline in the late 20th century. Distinguished by a creamy interior and sometimes a bloomy rind, it’s made from cow’s milk enriched with cream. Examples of this cheese are Cambozola, Saint-Agur, and Blue Castello.
With so many variations of blue cheese, one can often be substituted for another. Be sure to choose cheeses of similar textures and flavor profiles, such as Roquefort and Danablu; or a young Gorgonzola and Blue Castello; or Cambozola and Saint-Agur.
Blue cheese pairs exceptionally well with fruit and nuts, and it’s an excellent addition to an assorted cheese board. Whisk it into creamy sauces, dressings, and soups as a flavor enhancer or sprinkle it over salads. It also provides an umami kick of flavor to meat stuffings, cheesy pasta dishes, and baked grains.
Store opened blue cheese, wrapped in foil or parchment or waxed paper, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Blue cheese can also be wrapped and frozen in an airtight container or a zip-close bag for up to three months and defrosted in the refrigerator. The texture of frozen blue cheese will become more crumbly, and the flavor will diminish slightly, so it’s best to use thawed blue cheese in cooked dishes.
Blue Cheese Recipes
Blue cheese adds a uniquely sharp and creamy dimension to dressings, sauces, soups, and salads.
Learn about blue cheese, ripened with cultures of the mold penicillium. Making blue cheese requires steps that differ from standard cheesemaking.
Blue Mold Cheese
From mild to bold, blue cheeses include Gorgonzola, Stilton, Roquefort & Danish Blue.
Blue mold cheese
The history of blue cheese goes back to the 7th century to a cave outside the village of Roquefort in France. Legend has it that a distracted shepherd forgot his lunch of bread and cheese in the cave. When he returned a few months later, the cheese had become infested with penicillium roqueforti, a mold that was growing in the cave. Today this natural mold is refined and used for almost all blue cheeses simply by adding the mold culture to the cheese milk. For the cheese to turn blue, oxygen must reach the inside of the cheese. This is often done by piercing the cheese with thin needles or skewers. The blue mold then matures inside the air tunnels, developing flavor as it ages. Most mold-containing cheeses take three to six months to mature. In blue cheese, this happens from the inside out.
Creamy, flavorful, mature
Intense strokes of piquancy from the characteristic blue veins stretch along a creamy, often crumbly texture. Slight hints of rural mushrooms give way to a mild profile consisting of creamy tones of browned butter, slowly resolving in a calm finish. Ranging from mild to sharp, blue mold cheese is made using milk from cows, goats and sheep, producing a wide variety of taste and texture combinations. Resembling fine porcelain, a clear white backdrop marbled with intersected blue veins make up the iconic appearance of these beautiful cheeses.
While some form natural rinds during maturation, most blue mold cheeses have no rind. Instead, the flavors that normally accumulate around the exterior can be found across the entire body.
Types of blue mold cheeses
The character and profile are determined by how much moisture is kept in each cheese, as well as the point of maturation the rind is pierced. Variants high in moisture melt effectively and add tang to red meat and sauces.
With a distinct look, Gorgonzola is versatile in its uses, adding zest to risottos, pastas or pizzas. The white and blue marbling stands gracefully on a cheeseboard, pairing wonderfully with grapes, honey and pistachios.
Castello Double Crème Blue
Delicate and luxurious creaminess mix with intricate flavor in this indulgent blue mold cheese. Castello Double Crème Blue is smooth, with a velvety texture and a slightly sharp and salty taste.
Pair with grapes, honey and red wine.
A blue mold cheese made from sheep’s milk, this French classic is complex and intense. Its body is moist and laced with small blue pockets, providing a blend of sharp and tangy nuances. Vibrant and full of character, Roquefort made blue mold cheeses popular for a reason.
Pair with red wine, apples and walnuts.
Intricate and rich, the taste of a blue Stilton is one to experience. Slowly opening with creamy and nutty specks, followed by a delicate finish. Its body resembles a beautiful mosaic with fine veins stretching like narrow rivers throughout. Less moist than other blue mold cheeses, Stilton is strong and intense.
Pair with honey, walnuts and sliced apple.
Castello Traditional Danish Blue
Made using milk from local cattle, Castello Traditional Danish Blue comforts with a creamy profile of intricate flavors and a smooth texture. Native to blue mold cheeses, the opening is initially soft with flavors intensifying as it lingers.
Pair with fresh pear, citrus fruit and walnuts.
Curious about blue cheeses? Here's all you need to know about cheeses like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton & Danish Blue. How they taste, how the cheeses are made and how you can use them. Click here to learn more.