Blues are terrific in salads, pastas, pizza, entrees and gratins, but they are a perfect as the center of any cheese board. Blue cheeses start out like any other cheese, then go rascal. Penicillium mold, the same genus of fungi that gives us penicillin is injected into cheese. The mold needs oxygen to develop, so the cheese is pierced to create air passages that result in the trademark veining, and an intense love-it-or-hate-it smell and flavor.
Blues are produced in almost every cheese-producing country, but there are some classics that every cheese enthusiast should try.
Perhaps the oldest known blue cheese, Roquefort was also France’s first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation, in 1925. The cheese must be made entirely from the milk of Lacaune sheep and aged in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the South of France, where the Penicillium roqueforti mold is extracted from the soil. (Penicillium roqueforti is now grown in labs, and is currently the most common species used for blue cheeses in the world.)
Blue d’Auvergne is a milder, creamier cow’s milk cheese aged just four weeks. It’s a great alternative to Roquefort when cooking.
England’s favorite blue has strict controls over its production. Stilton can only be made in three counties: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Local milk must be used, and the cheese is never pressed, which gives it a characteristic flakiness. Stilton has an earthy flavor with a very creamy base despite its crumbly texture, and melts beautifully on sandwiches or in soups.
Maytag Blue (United States)
First produced in 1941, this iconic American blue is still made exclusively on the Maytag family farm. This classic American blue is dense, acidic, sharp and a forerunner of all other American blues.
Point Reyes Original Blue is also an American domestic classic. I’s a dense, creamy raw cow’s milk cheese. It starts sweet and finishes savory,—one of the best American blues, for sure.”
Now made primarily in Piedmont and Lombardy (its name comes from a town within the Milan metropolitan area), Gorgonzola has been produced since at least the 11th century. The cow’s milk cheese comes in two styles, which differ in their aging. Gorgonzola Dolce is aged for less than two months, while crumbly Gorgonzola Piccante (also called Mountain Gorgonzola) is aged up to five months.
It’s made from raw cow’s milk from Asturias, located in Spain’s northwest corner. Sheep and/or goat milk can be added, which makes a sharper, spicier cheese. The high humidity and cool temperature of its ripening caves encourage aggressive Penicillium proliferation, which contributes to Cabrales’s extensive veining and wild flavor.
An affordable alternative to Cabrales, Valdeón is similar, but a bit less extreme. It can be made entirely with cow’s milk, or with sheep and/or goat milk added. It’s usually aged only six to eight weeks, rather than Cabrales’s two to five months.
Chiriboga Blue (Germany)
Germany’s best-known contribution to blue cheese has been Cambozola, a mass-produced cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola. But anewer Bavarian blue Chiriboga Blue is a super-creamy, custardy blue, the acidity is in check, very wine friendly.
Buying, Storing and Serving Blue Cheese
Try to buy blues cut to order off the wheel, and store it in freezer paper or wax paper with an outer layer of plastic wrap; then place the blues in a re-sealable plastic bag, so they can breathe without exchanging odors with other things in the fridge.
Blue cheese is supposed be covered in mold and smell pungent, how ever if it smells bad like rotting flesh, toss it! “The mold that grows on cheese is safe and won’t hurt you, so take a quick taste. Mold that isn’t intended to be on the cheese won’t have the right acidity and will have a ‘dirty’ taste.”
Blue cheeses are high in fat and sodium, which means that it's best consumed in moderation. However, it does offer some nutritional value, and eating blue cheese boosts your protein, vitamin and mineral intake.