What Is Blue Cheese?

Production, Uses, and Recipes

Stilton and Shropshire blue

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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.

Fast Facts

• 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.

Substitutes

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.

Uses

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.

Storage

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.

The Best Blue Cheese Dressing
Welsh Leek and Stilton Soup
Steak With Gorgonzola Sauce
Roquefort and Caramelized Onion Tart
Kale, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Salad