Bleu Power: The Funky World of Blue Cheese
Blue cheese (or bleu cheese) is prized—or distrusted—for its striking appearance and unique aroma. Explore the world of blue cheese (types, recipes, & more) and break the mold!
Blue cheese may be the most misunderstood food in the world. To say it’s an acquired taste is kind of an understatement; kids generally won’t even try it. Even many adults are intimidated by its appearance and smell. They think it’s moldy (actually, it sort of is), and we as humans are taught to stay away from moldy foods because they’re spoiled (in this case, it’s absolutely not; it’s done on purpose and it’s fabulous).
There are SO many questions about blue cheese. Like…
- What is blue cheese?
- What does blue cheese taste like?
- Is it spelled bleu cheese or blue cheese?
- What foods to pair with blue cheese?
- Is blue cheese good for you?
- What kind of cheese is blue cheese?
- Why is blue cheese blue?
Stay tuned—we’ve got the answers to all your blue cheese questions!
Blue Cheese or Bleu Cheese?
Blue cheese vs. Bleu cheese? Is it spelled b-l-u-e cheese or b-l-e-u cheese? Actually, either spelling is correct. Bleu is simply the French spelling of “blue.” There are a number of fromages bleus (blue cheeses) in France, and since the French invented the use of blue cheese in salad dressing, you’re likely to find it spelled as “bleu cheese dressing” at the restaurant…unless they’re specifically serving Roquefort dressing (more details below).
What is Blue Cheese?
First off, blue cheese isn’t a particular cheese; it’s an entire category of cheeses. It doesn’t even fit neatly into one of the standard types of cheese categorized by texture, as it can fall into several of them. What makes blue cheese blue is the introduction of a mold from the Penicillium genus. Yes, it is a Penicillium mold that produces the antibiotic penicillin…but not the same one. The antibiotic is made from Penicillium chrysogenum; the cheeses are made with Penicillium roqueforti, Penicillium camemberti, and Penicillium glaucum.
Types of Blue Cheese
You probably noticed a couple of Latinized cheese names there, including one that’s not a type of blue cheese. Camembert and its close cousin, Brie, are known as soft-ripened cheeses. The Penicillium camemberti mold is sprayed onto the surface of each cheese, causing it to develop a soft, white, edible rind and a creamy interior texture. Blue cheese is made quite differently, and there are many different varieties.
Blue cheese can be made from various types of milk, including cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, and goat’s milk. Each type of milk can contribute different flavors and textures to the final cheese.
Gorgonzola is a blue cheese originating in the town of Gorgonzola, in Milan, Italy. Unlike Roquefort, it is made from cow’s milk, and the mold traditionally used is Penicillium glaucum. Gorgonzola also looks different from Roquefort; its characteristic greenish-blue veining is created by the deep insertion and removal of thin metal rods that create air channels where the mold can travel and branch out. The cheese can be buttery or firm, crumbly and salty. Today it is no longer even made in Gorgonzola, whose farmland was long ago absorbed into Milan’s metropolitan area, but plenty is produced in the surrounding regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.
Gorgonzola comes in two main varieties: Gorgonzola Dolce (also known as “sweet Gorgonzola”), which is younger, milder, and creamy, and Gorgonzola Piccante, which is aged longer, resulting in a stronger and sharper taste.
So, gorgonzola vs. blue cheese? Blue cheese, depending on the specific variety, can range from creamy and spreadable to firm and crumbly. Gorgonzola typically has a softer and creamier texture and flavor than other blue cheeses. It has a buttery and slightly sweet taste with tangy undertones. It is often spreadable and crumbles easily. The texture can vary based on the aging process and the specific cheese-making techniques used.
Roquefort is one of the most famous of blue cheeses, and the source of the name Penicillium roqueforti. Legend has it that it was discovered when a young man, eating a lunch of cheese and bread in a cave, abandoned it when he was distracted by a beautiful girl in the distance. When he returned months later (he must have been quite distracted), the cheese had turned into Roquefort. No word on the bread, although traditionally the mold was grown by tossing pieces of bread into the caves outside Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France, until it was consumed by the natural mold in the soil. (Today it’s grown in a lab for greater safety and consistency.) This classic cheese is made from sheep’s milk; the mold is introduced either directly into the curd or through holes poked in the rind during the ripening process.
Stilton is another world-famous blue cheese…or at least Blue Stilton is. (White Stilton, a lesser-known cheese made without the mold, is creamy, open-textured, and used for blending with fruits to make dessert cheeses.) Made in England, Blue Stilton is produced much like Gorgonzola, but the mold used is the more common Penicillium roqueforti. Ironically, it can no longer be made in the Cambridgeshire village that gave it its name; according to its protected designation of origin, it must be made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, or Nottinghamshire. It is traditionally eaten with port or barley wine.
Wisconsin Blue Cheeses
As the state that produces the most cheese and wins the most cheese awards in America, Wisconsin makes many types of blue cheese—even rivaling the world-famous varieties mentioned above. One particularly creamy Danish-style blue, marketed simply as Wisconsin Blue Cheese, is one of the highest-rated in the state.
Some artisans like to push the envelope and experiment with different styles. Sid Cook of Carr Valley Cheese, has had exceptional success with this. He produces an award-winning Gorgonzola-style, a super-rich five-cream blue (Brie is usually triple-cream), and another laced with chile peppers. And his Billy Blue—made with goat’s milk—has won numerous awards, including three international First Place awards and two national First Place Awards.
Wisconsin Blue Cheese
This famous “blue-marbled” cheese is known for its robust, earthy aroma. Made in tiny Mindoro, Wisconsin, its flavor is mildly sharp and fuller than other cheeses, with a crumbly-yet-creamy texture
Blue Cheese Recipes
So what does one do with this wonderfully funky cheese?
Blue cheese is a versatile ingredient that can be used in various recipes, adding a unique and bold flavor to dishes. Here are some popular blue cheese recipes:
- Salads: Blue cheese is commonly used in salads to add a tangy and creamy element. It pairs well with ingredients like mixed greens, apples, pears, walnuts, and balsamic vinaigrette. One popular salad is the classic wedge salad, featuring iceberg lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, and crumbled blue cheese.
- Burgers and Sandwiches: Blue cheese can be used as a topping for burgers, giving them a rich and tangy kick. It can also be spread on sandwiches, particularly with grilled chicken or steak, creating a delicious flavor combination.
- Pasta Dishes: Blue cheese can be incorporated into pasta dishes, such as creamy blue cheese pasta sauce. The cheese can be melted into a sauce with heavy cream, garlic, and herbs, and then tossed with cooked pasta for a decadent and flavorful meal.
- Pizza: Blue cheese can be a tasty addition to pizza. It pairs well with ingredients like caramelized onions, pears, prosciutto, and arugula. Crumble the cheese over the pizza or use it as part of the sauce.
- Dips and Spreads: Blue cheese makes a fantastic base for dips and spreads. It can be blended with cream cheese, sour cream, or Greek yogurt, along with herbs and spices, to create a tangy and creamy dip. This can be served with vegetables, crackers, or bread. Or, stir it into mayonnaise to create a quick, zesty spread that will instantly create a gourmet sandwich. Add some chopped green olives to that blue cheese mayo and you’ve got an amazing burger topping.
- Meats: Blue cheese can be used as a filling for stuffed meats like chicken breasts or pork chops. Cut a pocket into the meat and stuff it with blue cheese along with other ingredients like spinach, mushrooms, or dried fruits, then bake or grill until cooked through. Or, combine it with butter, fresh garlic, and thyme for a classic steak topping.
- Cheeseboards and Pairings: Blue cheese is often enjoyed on cheeseboards alongside other cheeses, fruits, nuts, and honey. It pairs well with grapes, figs, walnuts, and crusty bread. It can also be paired with sweet wines like Port or dessert wines.
With just a few added ingredients, you can make a blue cheese dressing that’s far better than you’ll find in any bottle. Or combine your favorite blue cheese with smoky bacon in this killer mac and cheese. Speaking of bacon, blue cheese also pairs with pears in this unique breakfast Dutch Baby.
These are just a few examples, but the possibilities with blue cheese are virtually endless. Feel free to experiment and incorporate it into your favorite recipes to enhance the flavor and add a touch of richness.
Blue Cheese Pairings
A robust, funky blue cheese is the perfect way to cap off a wine and cheese party. And we do mean you should serve it last in a flight, as its pungent flavor will overwhelm milder cheeses eaten after it. It generally won’t slice neatly, so break it off in large crumbles and serve it with apples, dried fruits, grapes and pears.
Wine: The classic blue cheese pairing is a dessert or fortified wine like Port, Sauternes, or Madeira, but it also does very well with an off-dry white like riesling or gewürztraminer. The best reds are pinot noir (which goes with pretty much everything) and heartier varietals like cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah, and zinfandel.
Beer: No wimpy beers allowed! Serve your blue with a cider or fruit beer (like a cherry kriek), or a hefty porter or stout. Whether it’s served as a flavorful accent to an entrée or the final crescendo of a cheese course, Wisconsin blue cheese won’t have your guests singing the blues; they’ll be singing your praises.
Fruits: Blue cheese pairs wonderfully with fruits, particularly those with a slightly sweet or tart flavor. Some excellent choices include pears, apples, grapes, figs, and dried fruits like dates or apricots. The combination of the creamy blue cheese with the fruity sweetness creates a delightful contrast.
Nuts: Nuts provide a crunchy texture and nutty flavor that complements the creaminess and tanginess of blue cheese. Walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts are all great options. They can be served alongside the cheese or incorporated into dishes like salads or cheese plates.
Honey: The sweetness of honey helps to balance the sharpness of blue cheese. Drizzling honey over blue cheese or serving it on the side allows for a delicious contrast of flavors. Consider using honey varieties like clover, wildflower, or lavender for added complexity.
Cured Meats: Blue cheese pairs well with cured meats, as their saltiness and richness complement the tangy and creamy flavors of the cheese. Prosciutto, pancetta, salami, and smoked ham are popular choices. They can be wrapped around pieces of blue cheese or served alongside on a charcuterie board.
Bread and Crackers: Serve blue cheese with a variety of bread and crackers to provide a neutral base that allows the flavors of the cheese to shine. Crusty baguette slices, whole-grain crackers, or water crackers all work well.
Remember, personal preferences can vary, so don’t hesitate to try different combinations and explore your own favorite pairings. The goal is to find flavors that enhance and complement the unique characteristics of blue cheese.
Is Blue Cheese Good For You?
Don’t fear the mold: the mold used in blue cheese, unlike some molds which produce toxins—is safe to consume.
Probably due to the fact that blue cheese mold is related to penicillin, some people believe it has health benefits to helps keep you healthy. We wouldn’t go quite that far, but one British study linked cheese consumption—particularly pungent blue cheese—to the French Paradox. And, of course, cheese is low in carbs and relatively high in protein…and a good source of calcium.