Blue cheese is a blanket term for cheeses which have been inoculated with Penicillium mold cultures, forming dark streaks, patches, or veins of blue-green mold. Some of the most famous cheeses in the world are blue cheeses, including Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola. As a general rule, this cheese smells very pungent, and has a strong, tangy flavor. There are a number of culinary uses for this cheese, which is readily available from most markets.
Sometimes blue cheese is seen labeled as “bleu cheese,” a nod to the French word for blue. Generic blue cheese is made by heating milk with rennet so that it curdles, and then stirring the mold in with the curds before pressing them, ensuring that the mold is evenly distributed in the cheese. The curds are pressed in a cheese mold and allowed to sit for several days before holes are made in the cheese to aerate it. Next, the cheese is stored in a cool cheese cave to ripen for three to six months, or longer in some cases, before being packaged for sale. Blue cheese requires careful handling while it is made and processed for sale, and home consumers should also take good care of their cheese by keeping it well wrapped and cold.
The result of the cheesemaking process is a soft, dense cow's milk cheese with seams of blue mold running through it. Some consumers find the mold unpleasant to look at or taste, since it certainly has a distinct flavor. However, most cheeses are technically made with molds and bacteriums, so the mold should not put consumers off, although it can sometimes make it difficult to tell if the cheese has gone bad or not. As a general rule, pink, brown, yellow, and red spots of mold indicate that a cheese has been poorly handled. Intrepid diners can scrape these molds off, while others may prefer to throw the cheese away.
Some special blue cheeses have an Appellation of Controlled Origin, meaning that the cheese must be from a particular region and prepared in a certain way. Roquefort, for example, is inoculated with Penicillium roqueforti, and aged in special cheese caves while it ripens. In order to be labeled “Roquefort,” a cheese must meet these basic standards. In the case of Roquefort, sheep's milk is used instead of cow's milk.
Well made blue cheese is moist, creamy, and packed with intense flavors. It can be used in salads, quiches, and spreads. A little bit goes a long way, but it is well worth experimenting with.