The Cheese Guide: All About Blue Cheese
Let’s explore the styles of the ever-distinctive blue cheese. This semi-soft, creamy, and pungent cheese is recognizable by its namesake blue-green veins. Blue cheese has big bold flavors, making it a favorite of some, and a hard pass for others. Read on to learn all the basics of blue cheese and how to serve it, as well as favorites to try.
Table Of Contents
The Legendary Origin Of Blue Cheese
Blue cheese has been in existence for centuries. Some of the most renowned old-world cheeses fall into this category, with origins in France, Italy, England, Ireland, Germany, Spain, and Denmark.
As legend has it, the first notable instance of blue cheese production occurred in the limestone caves of the Combalou plateau in France, about 2,000 years ago. It is said that a young shepherd, distracted by a fair maiden, left his lunch of bread and sheep’s milk cheese in the cave. These caves, often cool and damp, were the perfect environment for mold spores to settle and thrive. Upon returning to the cave some time later, he discovered his forgotten meal had transformed. The mold spores from his old bread had made their way into his sheep’s milk cheese and grown —this was the first Roquefort cheese.
How Blue Cheese Is Made
Blue cheese is made from cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk, or a combination thereof. Mold spores, usually Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum, are introduced to the milk before it is soured. Traditionally, the Penicillium mold was grown on rye bread. The spores were harvested and added to the milk. Once the milk has soured, and cheese curds have formed, the curds are drained and then pressed into wheels.
The cheese wheels are then pierced with needles to create channels. These channels allow oxygen to permeate the cheese, providing an ideal environment for the mold within the curds to grow. The result is the distinctive blue veining that gives the cheese its name and characteristic flavors. Generally, the more blue veining, the sharper the cheese will taste, though the type of milk used will also greatly dictate this, too.
Blue cheeses usually take between 4-12 weeks to ripen, and then can be aged for up to a year or more.
The Types Of Blue Cheese
This iconic French blue cheese originates from the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, from which its name is derived. It is made from sheep’s milk, and known for its intense sharpness and tangy notes. This comes from the flavor of the sheep’s milk, as well as the unique mold native to this region. Roquefort is delightfully pungent, it lingers on the palate.
Characteristics: Moist, crumbly, aromatic, sweet, creamy, intense, complex.
Pair it with: Balance its boldness with the sweetness of figs or drizzles of honey, accompanied by a glass of robust red wine.
Gorgonzola is the Italian version of blue cheese, hailing from the northern regions of Piedmont and Lombardy. Made from cow’s milk, there are two types of Gorgonzola with varying intensities of flavor, mostly due to the length of time the cheese is aged. Gorgonzola Dolce, also called Sweet Gorgonzola, is a milder, sweeter, and creamy counterpart to its sharper sibling, Gorgonzola Piccante, which has a crumbly texture and a spicier, more pungent taste.
Characteristics: Younger versions: soft, buttery, creamy with lighter hints of blue – Older versions: Stronger, earthier, sharper.
Pair it with: Indulge in the decadence of Gorgonzola Dolce with slices of ripe pear or a drizzle of balsamic glaze, complemented by a crisp white wine.
Hailing from England, Stilton is a cow’s milk blue cheese known for its robust and earthy taste. Its crumbly texture and bold flavors make it a classic choice on cheese boards. Expect spicy notes that evolve into a rich and savory experience.
Characteristics: Crumbly, salty with a rich, creamy, nutty flavor.
Pair it with: Pair Stilton with walnuts or apples for added texture and sweetness, accompanied by a glass of port wine.
This milder blue cheese hails from Denmark, offering a balanced flavor profile that appeals to a wide audience. Danish Blue is made from cow’s milk and strikes a harmonious balance between creaminess and tanginess.
Characteristics: Creamy and smooth, sharp, salty.
Pair it with: The cheese’s balanced flavor profile pairs exceptionally well with the sweetness of fresh or dried fruits like figs and apricots and a drizzle of honey or a dollop of fruit preserves, accompanied by a crisp white wine or a light lager.
Hailing from the rugged Asturias region of Spain, Cabrales is a blue cheese with a rustic charm and centuries-old tradition. Cabrales offers an intense and tangy flavor, with a crumbly texture that encapsulates the essence of the Spanish mountains. It can be made purely from cow’s milk, or sometimes mixed with goat or sheep’s milk. These mixed milk versions have a more intense, complex flavor.
Characteristics: Moist, crumbly, tangy, intense, complex.
Pair it with: Enjoy Cabrales with Marcona almonds and a drizzle of honey, paired with a glass of sherry.
Crafted in the rolling hills of County Tipperary, Ireland, Cashel Blue is a testament to the Emerald Isle’s cheese-making prowess. This semi-soft blue cheese made from cow’s milk, delivers a creamy and mild taste with delightful hints of spice.
Characteristics: A luscious, creamy texture with a nutty, slightly sweet and a bit earthy taste.
Pair it with: Accompany Cashel Blue with fresh Irish soda bread or oatcakes, along with a glass of crisp cider.
Cambozola marries the creaminess of Camembert with the boldness of Gorgonzola. Originating in the Allgäu region of Germany, this delicious and approachable blue cheese brings together the best of both worlds. The milder taste of Camembert seamlessly intertwines with the pungency of Gorgonzola, creating a flavor profile that is both luscious and sophisticated.
Pair it with: The creaminess of this cheese pairs exceptionally well with fresh fruits such as pears and grapes, along with a glass of sparkling wine or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
What To Pair With Blue Cheese
Build your blue cheese experience with thoughtful pairings that bring out the best in the cheese:
Fruits – Fresh or dried fruits like figs, pears, and apples add a touch of sweetness and acidity, balancing the richness of the cheese.
Honey & Jams – The sweetness of honey and fruit jams
Nuts – The crunch of nuts and their toasty flavor pair beautifully, try walnuts, pecans, or almonds.
Breads & Crackers – A selection of crusty bread or hearty crackers provides a neutral base, allowing the cheese to shine. Try a whole grain or nut based crackers that stand up to blue cheese’s richness and depth.
Dark Chocolate – Blue cheese’s strong and pungent notes compliment the robust undertones of a strong dark chocolate.
Noteworthy Blue Cheeses To Try
- Bayley Hazen, Jasper Hill Farm, Vermont: One of my go-to cheeses, Bayley Hazen has a fudge-like texture, toasted-nut sweetness, and anise spice character.
- Cambozola, Germany : One of the more approachable styles of blue cheese, this soft ripened combination of camembert and gorgonzola is creamy and luscious with a hint of pungent depth.
- Point Reyes Blue, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, California : From one of my favorite places, this cheese is a classic blue that is bold, with a peppery finish.
- Blue Castello, Denmark : This Danish Blue combines a double cream brie with a traditional blue cheese creating a cheese that is smooth, decadent, with a hint of sharp, peppery flavor.
- Rogue River Blue, Rogue Creamery, Oregon : A seasonal blue, named champion of the 2019/2020 World Cheese Awards. Released on the Autumn Equinox each year, this cheese is wrapped in Syrah grape leaves and steeped in pear spirits.
- Maytag Blue, Maytag Dairy Farms, Iowa : This award-winning blue was first produced in 1941 in an attempt to recreate France’s Roquefort. The result is a creamy yet crumbly cheese with green veins which yield pungent and lemony notes.
Recipes To Make With Blue Cheese
A Classic Wedge Salad (coming this month)
My Go-To Blue Cheese Dressing (coming this month)
Pear & Gorgonzola Galette (coming this month)
The Blue Cheese Board (coming this month)
Have you tried any of these blues? If so, be sure to leave a comment below and let me know what you think. And if you do, don’t forget to tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see!