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June/July 2017

Crumbled Blue Cheese

Is Crumbled Blue Cheese Any Good?

How We Tested

Wedges of blue cheese are great for cheese plates, but precrumbled blue cheese, sold in plastic tubs, is a convenient shortcut. It saves you the messy step of breaking up a block by hand, and the crumbles are just the right size for sprinkling over a salad or measuring for dips, dressings, stuffings, sauces, and more.

To find the best crumbled blue cheese, we surveyed the market and chose five top-selling products, priced from $2.84 to $6.49 per 4- to 8-ounce package. We’re not talking about Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola here, as the majority of crumbled blue cheese sold in the United States is made from cow’s milk, aged for at least 60 days, and known simply as “blue cheese.” A panel of 21 tasters sampled each of the five products in three blind taste tests: plain, in blue cheese dressing, and toasted on crostini. The goal was to find a rich, creamy cheese with a pungent, balanced sharpness or funk.

We noticed right away that tasters preferred cheeses that were bluer in color, finding them “intensely tangy and pungent,” while they compared whiter cheeses to “feta” or “cheddar.” The trend held for dressing, too; those made with whiter cheeses were fine but lacked blue cheese’s signature “blue” flavor and thus tasted more like ranch or mayonnaise. The blue color in blue cheese is mold, so we knew we liked moldier cheeses. To understand why, we took a deeper dive into how blue cheese is made.

First off, bluer blue cheeses are more flavorful because the blue mold produces an enzyme that reacts with the cheese, creating potent flavor compounds called ketones that give the cheese its characteristic flavor. To make blue cheese, mold spores are added to the milk early in the cheese-making process. Like seeds in soil, the mold spores germinate and grow as the cheese ages. We asked cheese-industry experts if our top-ranking cheeses simply had more spores added, but they said no. Mold needs oxygen to grow, and how blue a blue cheese is depends largely on how much oxygen it has been exposed to—more oxygen means more flavorful mold.

Cheese makers can expose the mold spores in the cheese to oxygen in two ways: by creating a more porous cheese that traps air inside or by poking holes in the cheese after it’s formed to ventilate the interior. Some manufacturers exposed their cheeses to more oxygen, and we liked these products more.

Yet while tasters had a clear preference for sharper cheeses, our second-place cheese, from Boar’s Head, was too much for some—it was so funky it practically had a horn section. We recommend it because our tasting panel liked robust blue-cheese flavor, but it might not be for those who prefer a milder flavor profile.

We noticed another quality shared by our top two cheeses: They both use raw milk, while the three lower-ranking cheeses use pasteurized milk. According to cheese expert Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, raw milk cheeses “develop flavor faster, develop more intense flavors, and develop more breadth of flavor than do pasteurized milk cheeses.” This may be another reason why tasters dubbed lower-ranking cheeses made with pasteurized milk “bland” and “mild” but described the top two cheeses, both made with raw milk, as especially “rich” and “flavorful.”

Texture also played into our preferences. One of the challenges of a crumbled cheese is keeping the crumbles from compacting. All but one of the cheeses in our lineup had either potato starch or cellulose added to keep the crumbles separate. The lone product without an anticlumping agent was a wee bit stickier, but it didn’t pose a problem. The cheeses with cellulose were a bit dry and powdery when eaten plain; two of them, the two lowest-ranking cheeses, were dry even when mixed into a creamy dressing. The sole cheese that used potato starch, also our top-ranking product, had moist, separate crumbles. Sommer shared that a recent study at UW–Madison concluded that cellulose was drier and more detectable on the tongue than potato starch, and our results bore that out.

Our top cheese, Roth Buttermilk Blue Crumbles, was quite blue in color and had a pronounced blue cheese flavor, with a bold, balanced funk. It’s made with raw milk and adds potato starch instead of cellulose to keep its crumbles separate while maintaining a “lovely” creamy texture.

Methodology

We tasted five nationally available varieties of crumbled blue cheese, priced from $2.84 to $6.49 per package and purchased in Boston-area supermarkets, in three blind tastings: plain, in blue cheese dressing, and toasted on crostini. Scores were averaged, and products appear below in order of preference.

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The Results

Note: Cook's Country continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.

Winner
Recommended

Roth Buttermilk Blue Crumbles

$3.99 for 4 oz ($1.00 per oz)*

Roth Buttermilk Blue Crumbles

“Now that’s blue cheese!” wrote one taster about this top-rated product. It was “assertive yet dignified.” Or, as another taster put it, this cheese had a “good amount of funk without tasting like feet.” Its “clear, clean blue cheese” flavor had a “well-balanced” acidity, and its “lush” crumbles were “soft and creamy” both cooked and uncooked.

More Details
$3.99 for 4 oz ($1.00 per oz)*
Recommended

Boar’s Head Creamy Blue All Natural Cheese Crumbles

$6.49 for 6 oz ($1.08 per oz)*

Boar’s Head Creamy Blue All Natural Cheese Crumbles

This “creamy” cheese had a nice smooth texture both cooked and raw. With a “sharp, punchy tang,” it was “ripe,” “intense,” and “assertively funky,” with some “savory” and “floral” notes. Most blue-cheese lovers liked this “mega blue,” but it was too assertive for a few: “Packs a punch.” “Too strong for me.”

More Details
$6.49 for 6 oz ($1.08 per oz)*

Athenos Crumbled Blue Cheese

$4.29 for 4.5 oz ($0.95 per oz)*

Athenos Crumbled Blue Cheese

This product uses cellulose to keep its crumbles separate but was not as dry and powdery as other cheeses with cellulose added. Tasters noted that this cheese was slightly dry when tasted plain but deemed it fine in the dressing and “a little crumbly but mostly melty and smooth” on the crostini. It was also “pungent,” with a light bitterness and a notable “tropical” fruitiness.

More Details
$4.29 for 4.5 oz ($0.95 per oz)*

Treasure Cave Blue Cheese Crumbles

$2.84 for 5 oz ($0.57 per oz)*

Treasure Cave Blue Cheese Crumbles

This product tasted salty to some (even though it contained the same amount of sodium as the other cheeses), likely because it was very mild otherwise. “Not quite funky enough,” wrote one taster. It was “almost like ranch [dressing],” with a subtle nuttiness. “Read more like a feta than a blue. Salty, tangy, and a little bit dry.” The dryness is likely because it contains cellulose.

More Details
$2.84 for 5 oz ($0.57 per oz)*
Recommended with Reservations

Stella Blue Cheese Crumbles

$4.75 for 8 oz ($0.59 per oz)*

Stella Blue Cheese Crumbles

This cheese uses cellulose to keep its crumbles intact, and tasters found it “a bit dry,” with “a powdery quality” that came through even when melted or mixed into a creamy dressing. It had an acidic tang but was otherwise fairly “mellow”; tasters likened it to ranch dressing, mayonnaise, and cheddar and feta cheeses. “Needs a funky punch.”

More Details
$4.75 for 8 oz ($0.59 per oz)*