* Blue-veined cheeses have been around fur perhaps thousands of years. Notable examples exist in most great cheesemaking countries.
* A variety of textures and flavor profiles of blue cheese exist to fit almost every taste.
* Blue cheeses work well in the kitchen, as they enhance salad dressings, soups, sauces, and fillings.
* It is perfectly safe to eat blue cheese, even if you cannot use penicillin.
Blue-veined cheeses inspire strong emotions, even among ardent cheese eaters. Most people either love them or hate them, with few consumers remaining indifferent. These wonderfully versatile cheeses with mysterious streaks of blue mold running through them are probably the result of a glorious accident somewhere back in antiquity when someone--a hapless shepherd no doubt--left fresh cheese and bread together for too long. They are greatly misunderstood cheeses, both in terms of how they are made and how they are used, and therefore, it is particularly important to give your salespeople plenty of information, both technical and historical, with a little bit of legend thrown in as well.
How long have blue-veined cheeses been around?
No one knows for sure when the first blue-veined cheeses were made. The original efforts, and the cheesemakers themselves, are shrouded in the mists of time, although we do have some clues. Written descriptions of this type of cheese emerged from monasteries in about 800, and it is believed that Gorgonzola dates back at least to the 10th century. In the early 15th century, inhabitants of Roquefort were given a monopoly for the cheese from the king; however, it is generally believed to have been made for hundreds, if not thousands of years before that time. Stilton gained fame during the 1700s, but it too is surely much older. Denmark entered the blue cheese business in 1874, and developed their successful Danablu, or Danish Blue, in 1927.
How are blue-veined cheeses made?
Any cheese that is left alone long enough will develop mold, with some types being desirable and some not. Cheese is, after all, a form of controlled spoilage, and the development of mold is no exception. For blue-veined cheeses, the mold spores--generally Penicillium roqueforti--are added to the milk in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. The cultures need air for the mold to grow, and for that reason, a technique of piercing the cheese with long, slender needles was developed to create pathways for the veins to grow. It is important that the curds remain loosely packed, so that tiny air pockets in which the mold can grow remain. For this reason, blue cheeses are never pressed to expel the whey, but instead are turned regularly to let the weight of the curds force out the remaining liquid. Finally, the cheeses need to ripen in a room with low temperatures and high humidity, which is why caves have always played an important role in blue cheesemaking.
What do the blue veins do for the cheese?
Besides the unmistakable difference they make in the cheese's appearance, the blue veins affect the taste of the cheese. The culture helps break down the fats and proteins, thus developing in the cheese a more aromatic flavor and a smoother texture. The mold also transforms the acids in the cheese, which removes any sourish, milky flavor, and leads the cheese to offer more pronounced flavors.
Are all blue cheeses the same?
All blue-veined cheeses have certain characteristics that classify them as a family of cheeses. However, great differences in texture, taste, and appearance exist among the world's great blues. They range from sweet, creamy, mild varieties to very assertive and crumbly cheeses. The color also varies from very pale to deep, burnt orange, and in some cases, the blue veins hardly appear at all, only leaving the distinctive flavor. It's best to try several varieties and decide which is best suited to your tastes and the desired usage.
Are blue-veined cheeses good for cooking?
While blue-veined cheeses are most often eaten as table cheeses--either before or after dinner, the majority of them are excellent cooking cheeses, bringing bold flavor to sauces, dips, soups, and fillings for pasta, meat, and vegetables. A wonderful salad dressing may be made by mixing a creamy blue cheese such as Danish Blue with yogurt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Melted Roquefort mixed with caramelized onions can transform a simple grilled steak. Blue-veined cheeses can also create a surprising new flavor in macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, and all sorts of casseroles.
Can you eat blue cheese if you are allergic to penicillin?
If the Latin name for blue cheese cultures--Penicillium roqueforti--looks familiar, it is because it is the same culture from which penicillin is derived. However, the enzymes present in the cheese break down the penicillin and render it neutral, making it quite safe. However, for the same reason, if you are taking penicillin, you should avoid eating blue cheese for the duration of the prescription or it might make your medicine useless.