What this is: A dive into the beautiful and pungent world of blue cheese
Who it's for: Adventurous and flavor-loving cheese people
Whether bold in flavor or just bold in look, cheeses in this type can be polarizing. Their salty creaminess can be the star on a juicy burger or the highlight of a dessert plate. But for some people, these cheeses are the stuff of nightmares, which makes blue fans secretly happy that they don’t have to share.
The bold&blue Cheese Type
This category of cheese can be one of the most misunderstood. Some people are exposed to blue cheese via a bad bottled dressing and hate it and never try it again. Some just don’t like the idea of moldy cheese, which is a shame because mold is actually a part of making many kinds of cheese, including the well-loved Brie and Camembert.
The interesting thing to know about blue cheese is that it has a great variety, and if you think you don’t like it, you may just not have tried the right one. Or to say it another way, you may have only tried the wrong one.
First, let’s talk about why blue cheeses are blue. Blue cheese is inoculated with either Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum (in Gorgonzola,) but for it to turn blue and form the tell-tale blue veining, the cheese actually needs to be pierced to create air holes, which allow in oxygen so promote the growth of the mold. If you’ve ever looked at a half wheel of blue cheese, you may have noticed stronger straight lines of mold in the paste of the cheese—those are places where the cheese was pierced and the blue veins started and stretched into any cracks between the curds that make up the whole wheel.
A new kind of blueMore recently, some American cheese makers have experimented with surface-ripened blues, such as Westfield Farm's Blue Log or their Bluebonnet. These aren’t pierced, but rather allow the blue to ripen on the surface. These cheeses are still rare, but we mention them so you'll know what you're dealing with if you do see one out in the wild!
Cheeses in this category include:
- Bayley Hazen
- Roaring 40s
The mold in blue cheese can span the color spectrum from almost dark purple to green to blue. The paste can be smooth and spreadable or firmer and crumbly or somewhere in between. The cheese may have a natural rind, a foil wrapper, or be scooped out of a big wheel (gorgonzola) in a wooden cheese box.
Like most cheese categories, you will discover cheese from all 4 milk types here. In general, you can use this guide to help you find a milk type you like (or ask your favorite monger for a taste!)
- Sheep's milk is Saltier
- Cow's milk is Creamier
- Goat's milk is Tangier
- Buffalo milk is Fattier/Creamier
These cheeses can go from sweet to salty to piquant with a little bit of a bite. If it’s an artisanal cheese, the flavor can even change a little from batch to batch. If you are looking to dip your toes into the blue cheese world, ask your cheesemonger for a “gateway” blue cheese and a friendly and fun pairing idea. If you don’t have access to a cheesemonger, look for a Danish blue cheese, these tend to reliably be the milder blues available.
Favorite Flavor Profiles
You probably know all about blue cheese pairing well with Spicy because of its famous pairing with buffalo wings, but it absolutely loves to go Sweet with a pairing of chocolate, dessert wine, sliced pears or apples and our favorite, caramel sauce. If you are looking for something a little more savory, try serving it with sweet and spicy nuts for a real winner.
Favorite Wine Profiles
We suggest the following types of wine:
- Sparkling (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, Lambrusco)
- Sweet White (Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Muscato, Chenin Blanc)
- Medium Red (Merlot, Malbec, Chianti, Nebbiolo)
- Dessert (Port, Sauternes, Ice Wine, Sherry)
You can pull off other reds here but sometimes the blue is too strong for a light red or too mild for a bold red. If you know your blues, you can play around with that red wine category—don’t be afraid to experiment!
How to Shop for bold&blue Cheese
The best way to shop for these cheeses is to look for a cheese store or a cheese counter that will let you try before you buy, especially if you’re blue-shy. Also, if you can help it, never, ever buy a container of crumbled blue cheese. We know it sounds like a a no-brainer if you need crumbled blue cheese (I mean, it’s already crumbled!), and it is usually cheaper, but the dirty secret is that these blue crumbles in a tub are made from the scraps of other commodity blue cheeses. This means that you’re already starting with less-than-stellar cheese and then you’re getting the leftovers—it’s basically the lowest rung on the blue ladder. So, we recommend that you always crumble your own if you really want it to taste great. You deserve more than the leftover scraps of bulk cheese!
On a Cheese Plate
Start by looking at the other cheese and pairings you want to add to the board: if your board is evenly sweet and savory, you’re good with just about any blue cheese. If it’s leaning savory, feel free to push the envelope with strong blues. Leaning sweet? Grab the milder or creamier ones and have fun with sweet pairings. If it’s spreadable, think about it on a chocolate shortbread with berry jam. Pow!
Don’t be afraid, this category may have a reputation, but it’s a lot friendlier and more versatile than most people give it credit for!
Eat more blue cheese! Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to buy one blue cheese and try it 4 different ways. What cheese will you pick and what will each of these ways look like?
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.