The Commons
Food and Drink

Regarding your right not to like blue cheese

The mold is there on purpose, and it makes the cheese taste delicious

Wendy M. Levy, the proprietor of Brattleboro Cheese Shop & Café, has been “slingin’ the curds for 17 years now” as a professional cheesemonger.

Originally published in The Commons issue #172 (Wednesday, October 3, 2012).

BRATTLEBORO—If you are lucky enough to love your work, good for you. But I don’t have to tell you that even the most fabulous jobs have at least one annoying thing about them.

For me, as a cheesemonger, it’s people who say things like “Oh, I don’t like goat cheese” or “I don’t like blue cheese,” as if all cheeses in those categories taste exactly the same.

Unless you’ve tried at least six different examples of a category of cheese, I’m sorry, but you can’t say that you don’t like it.

That’s like saying that just because one cat scratched the heck out of your hand when you were 5 years old, that you “don’t like cats.” (Oh, wait. I say that.)

Moving right along.

I shouldn’t blame these people, I suppose. There are so many terrible cheeses out there trying to pass themselves off as something people should eat, as proper representatives of their categories — or decent cheeses that have been improperly handled and sold way past their prime.

And blue cheese, sadly, might win the prize of being the type of cheese most commonly misrepresented. Maybe that’s because it’s moldy, and we’re generally taught to avoid foods that are moldy, with good reason.

But with blue cheese, the mold is beneficial and is put there on purpose. And it makes the cheese taste delicious.

* * *

Blue cheese is cheese that has had spores of Penicillium roqueforti introduced to it, and these spores are encouraged to proliferate on or in some part of the cheese.

Generally, the mold travels throughout the curds, creating veins of blue, green, or gray. (A few blue cheeses have mold only on the exterior.)

Because mold needs oxygen, and there’s not much oxygen on the inside of a cheese, the wheels of cheese meant to be blue are spiked: thin rods are used to pierce the wheels of cheese, all the way from top to bottom. As air travels into the interior of the cheese, it allows the spores to travel and multiply.

The spiking is why, when you cut into a wheel of blue cheese, you often see straight vertical lines of blue. The thin, irregular blue veins that run throughout the cheese are from the mold taking advantage of the tiny spaces in-between the individual curds.

For those who have an allergy to medical Penicillin, be aware that Penicillium roqueforti is an entirely different strain and should not induce the same reaction.

Then again, I’m not a doctor, so talk to yours before you chow down on blue cheese, feel sick, and blame me.

* * *

Although there are some similarities between all blue cheeses, there is a great deal of variety within the category. Even the most timid of constitution will likely find an agreeable blue.

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