Why is Blue Cheese Blue?

Why is Blue Cheese Blue?

Blue cheese. Love it or hate it. Blue cheese is one of the more controversial cheese types, however, it is very diverse and can be used in a variety of different ways. In this article, we look at why blue cheese is blue as well as examples of different strength blues.

Why is Blue Cheese Blue?

Blue cheese contains the enzyme Penicillium Roqueforti, which speeds up the breakdown process of fats and proteins within the cheese. This is because Penicillium Roqueforti has a very high Ph level. This breakdown of the fat ensures the cheese has a strong, tangy and sharp flavour. Penicillium Roqueforti requires oxygen in order to continue its breakdown process.

The cheese is either pierced (also known as needling) in a downward motion or air holes are created to ensure that there is a continuous oxygen flow. This is also the reason some blue cheeses (such as gorgonzola piccante) have blue veins (lines) whereas others, for example, Roquefort, have round dots of blue.

blue cheese needled
Left: Needled Blue Cheese. Right: Blue cheese with holes.

What is Penicillium Roqueforti?

Traditionally, cheese was left to grow mould and develop naturally. Nowadays, Penicillium Roqueforti is developed in a lab. It is added as a powder form during cheese making to speed up the reaction and the breakdown process. The rind of blue cheese is then wrapped, which ensures a more controlled process for developing the mould and prevents the whole cheese from turning blue.

Ways of Controlling Blue Mould

Another way in which the blue mould is controlled is by adding salt during the cheese-making process. Although it does not prevent mould from developing entirely, it can slow down the process at which it develops. This results in a well-rounded balance between actual cheese and blue mould. However, it is also the reason a lot of blue cheeses taste very salty!

Is it Safe to Eat?

Penicillium Roqueforti was developed and used in the making of blue cheese as it is safe to eat and does not release harmful chemicals as other moulds do. It is easy to create mould, and can also be formed on bread and rye. This is a key reason why it is discouraged for celiacs to eat blue cheese or be avoided in a gluten-free diet.

How did Blue Cheese Come About?

Legend has it a French cave worker one day saw a fair maiden and ran off to chase her, leaving his cheese sandwich at the cave. When he returned some weeks later, his cheese had developed mould. Inquisitive to try the new cheese, he found that it tasted rather good.
The limestone caves in France were the perfect environment for the mould to grow (warm, damp and a good flow of oxygen).
Whilst this story may be a little far-fetched, it reminds us that the French did indeed create blue cheese by accident and since then has developed a safer mould that is known as Penicillium Roqueforti.

Types of Blue Cheese

Blue cheese nowadays comes in a variety of strengths and flavours. Different kinds of milk can also be used, however the most common for blue cheese is cow and ewe milk.

A great entry-level blue is Fourme d’Ambert. This is a blue cheese dating back the Roman times in France. An AOC protected cheese, it is the perfect way to introduce blue cheese to the palette, and not so sharp and salty, rather more rich and creamy.

Another cheese I always recommend to those who are not quite so keen is Riverine. Made by Berrys Creek in the Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia, it is made with Buffalo milk. This gives the cheese a very rich and buttery texture, making it a little harder for those Penicillium Roqueforti enzymes to break down the fats and proteins. Very mild, not at all salty and full of flavour, I have ensured that many have at least given blue cheese a go when it is something they would not even consider.

For the Strong Blue Lovers…

Stepping further up the blue cheese scale to a mid-range blue. Cashel (cows milk) and Crozier (ewe milk) are made in Tipperary in Ireland. Created by Mr and Mrs Grub in the 1980s and now in the hands of the 2nd generation. This farmhouse kitchen cheese has so many awards it is a large scale production!
A rich, salty and bitey cheese (a little more sweetness in the Crozier), it is a great addition to any cheeseboard.

If you have a stronger palette, Roquefort is the perfect cheese for you. A traditional French blue, this one is sure to have your taste buds tingling. It is salty, acidic and creamy. Perfectly matched with a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, it will cut through the rich intensity of the wine. This is your ideal bold flavour combination and a winner for all.