Ask the Cheesemonger
As cheese master at one of Kroger’s markets in Cincinnati, Ohio, Melissa helped develop the working model for the Kroger/Murray’s cheese shop in each supermarket as well as its training program for cheese stewards
Q: What causes the “blue” in blue cheese?
A: To create a blue cheese, it’s necessary for blue mold spores to be present in the cheesemaking environment and/or for them to be introduced into the milk during the early stages of production.
In commercial cheesemaking these spores are in the mixture of bacteriological starter cultures that help give the cheese its identity as it matures. There are two molds used in the making of blue cheese: The best-known and the more piquant version is Penicillium roqueforti, which originated in the caves at Roquefort in France, thereby giving the famous cheese its name. This mold is also used in cheeses such as Ireland’s Cashel Blue and British Stilton. A milder version of blue mold called Penicillium glaucum is found in Bleu d’Auvergne and Gorgonzola Dolce. Amazingly, it takes only one teaspoon of blue mold to inoculate a 1,500-gallon vat of milk.
At a certain point during aging, the cheese is usually pierced with needles to add in the “bluing.” This allows air to enter the cheese, where it reacts with the enzymes and spores, activating the blue mold in the pierced areas and along any naturally occurring fissures in the paste. The mold continues to develop as the cheese matures, helping to break down the paste until it reaches the desired consistency and potency. The extent to which the blue mold and “veining” are present in the cheese is controlled by the cheesemaker and, in the case of name-protected cheeses, governed by its traditional recipe.
Sometimes customers tell me they do not like blue cheese, and I am quick to explain that there are many different flavor characteristics within the blue family. If you do not like sharp blue cheeses such as Stilton, try a milder one, such as Cambozola Black. I also recommend pairing blues with fig paste or artisanal honey; the sweetness curbs the sharpness of the blue and adds more flavor dimension to the cheese.
Q: I’ve seen many flavored chèvres in my market, and I’m wondering how to make my own using my favorite local goat cheese.
A: I think of fresh chèvre as a tangy foundation on which to build flavors. Fresh, chopped herbs—basil, rosemary, chervil, thyme, or tarragon—highlight the soft goat cheese’s bright white color and lemony undertones, making it a lively companion to other foods such as crostini, pasta, or smoked salmon. I also use freshly herbed chèvre to make a fabulous topping for grilled chicken and pork or to fortify a green salad. Dried herbs can be used, too, but note that they have a milder flavor. Either way, start with small quantities of seasonings so you don’t overwhelm your chèvre (about three tablespoons per eight-ounce log is a good measure to start with). You can always add more!
Beyond herbs, other good flavor additions for chèvre are chopped sun-dried tomatoes; garlic-infused olive oil; minced, roasted red peppers; or olive tapenade. All of these go well with the cheese’s creamy and versatile nature. Fold them gently into chèvre that’s been brought to room temperature (it’s easier to mix in seasonings if it’s not cold), or try this simple method to make savory chèvre bonbons: Divide chèvre into small, walnut-size portions, and roll each one in a mixture of chopped herbs, nuts, and fresh or toasted spices. Drizzle or pool some honey, balsamic vinegar, or extra-virgin olive oil on each serving plate, and accompany with crusty fresh French bread or chewy ciabatta.
Written by Melissa Wood