Getting to Know: Blue Cheese
While all blue cheeses get their flavor from harmless blue mold, different types vary wildly. Here’s a guide to 12 funky blues.
“Boom! Pow! There’s that blue cheese flavor,” said one taster of this cheese. Danish Blue (or Danablu) is a powerful and complex cheese made from cow’s milk and homogenized cream. It has a strong salty, tangy flavor with a slightly sweet finish. Its creamy yet crumbly semisoft texture is spotted with silvery blue pockets. It makes a great dessert cheese served with stone fruit or pears.
France’s “cheese of kings and popes,” once favored by Charlemagne, is a creamy, pungent sheep’s-milk cheese produced in the Roquefort-sur-Soulzon region. Ivory-colored and pocketed with large clumps of dark green-blue mold (Penicillium roqueforti), Roquefort is “luxurious” and “supercreamy,” with crystal-like granules that vary the texture. Its pungent flavor has a bit of sweetness and “a little sharpness that lingers at the back of the throat.” Great for melting, it is also a star on a cheese plate.
Cashel Blue cheese is a semisoft cow’s-milk cheese that has been made in County Tipperary, Ireland since 1984. The cheese uses Penicillium roqueforti, but the mold spores are stirred into the warm milk rather than being injected into the cheese. This process results in the marble-like pattern of blue-green mold in the light-colored cheese. Tasters commented on the “buttery” flavor and “briny” notes as well as the creamy but “slightly granular” texture.
Cabrales is made in Asturias, Spain, from cow’s milk or a mixture of cow’s, sheep’s, and goat’s milk and is aged in limestone caves for two to four months. Cabrales is not injected with mold like other blue cheeses; humidity in the caves fosters the growth of a particular mold that cures from the outside of the cheese to the center. The cheese has a “spicy, peppery kick” and a semifirm, crumbly, chalky texture.
By law, this cow’s-milk English cheese can be produced in only three counties—Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. The distinctive blue lines are created by piercing the cheese with long needles to allow bacteria to infiltrate. Stilton is recognizable by its reddish-gold rind and its butter-colored interior. Our tasters praised its “tangy,” “sharp” flavor and creamy, crumbly texture.
Produced in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy, Gorgonzola is a cow’s-milk cheese available in two varieties: dolce (sweet) and piccante (also called naturale or mountain). The dolce version, which is more common in the United States, is aged for only two to three months versus piccante’s six. Tasters loved dolce’s ultracreamy texture, subtle spice, and “sweet finish.” The mild blue flavor of Gorgonzola works well in our Cantaloupe and Blue Cheese Salad (see related content).
This mild blue cheese is actually a hybrid cross of blue cheese and Brie. Produced in Denmark from pasteurized cow’s milk, the cheese is blue-veined and soft-ripened. Some tasters detected a slightly sharp, almost cheddar-like note and a “creamy but bracing bite.” It is perfect on burgers or spread on crackers.
This German cow’s-milk blue cheese is a cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola. Its triple-cream (at least 75 percent milk fat) base is Brie-like: creamy, soft, and buttery. In fact, it’s often referred to as “blue Brie.” The grayish-blue mold cuts through the richness, giving it a light funk on the finish. Tasters noted its nutty, mildly peppery flavor and slight tang.
This assertive, complex cheese, a blend of pasteurized cow’s and goat’s milks, hails from Castile-León in northwestern Spain. Valdeon is wrapped in sycamore leaves before being aged in caves for at least two months. This firm, crumbly cheese has a bluish-gray base color that is speckled with dots of blue mold. The full-flavored cheese is pleasantly “gamy” and slightly astringent. Serve it with fruit or preserves.
Some of the best cheeses are the stinkiest, and rich, funky, salty Bleu d’Auvergne is a prime example. Produced in the mountainous Massif Central region of France, it is made in the Roquefort style but uses cow’s, rather than sheep’s, milk (and is about half the price of Roquefort). Like Roquefort, it is soft and creamy, with pungent “blue” flavor and a strong aftertaste.
This cow’s-milk blue from Wisconsin is almost feta-like: firm, crumbly, mild, and salty. Because it is not relatively potent or complex, Stella is an excellent choice for a blue cheese salad dressing recipe; as a bonus, it crumbles readily and so is easy to work with. This mild cheese also works well in our Devils on Horseback (see related content).