Monday, July 23, 2007

Cheese Myths Debunked!

Volume One: Blue Cheese
Good afternoon cheese hounds! This is the first of a set of emails dedicated to demystifying the seemingly complicated world of cheese. Cheese doesn't need to be confusing or intimidating, I assure you. All it needs to be is delicious. Simple enough! So, if any of you out there have urgent or nagging cheese questions, I implore you to send them in. You could be the featured cheese head of our next volume of cheese myths.

This week we're going to get this cheese ball rolling by divulging the wonders of (drumroll please) blue cheese! Strong, spicy and wonderful, blue cheese is one of the true wonders of the cheese world. From Roquefort to Maytag, blue has been around for ages, wooing many a cheese lover with it's distinctive flavors.

Let me start off by saying this: not all blues are created equal. There are many folks out there who are convinced that they don't like the funky taste of blue cheese. However, blues come in all kinds of permutations, from mild and creamy to aged and rank. And just for the record, blues don't discriminate. There is a barnyard symphony of possibilities from cows' milk to goats' milk to sheeps' milk blue. In other words, try some different styles of blue on for size and you may just find something that makes your palate sing!

The flavor and strength of a blue cheese can be influenced by any number of things, but two among them stand out: how long the cheese has been aged and what kind of mold has been used to create it. Just like all other cheeses, the different strains of mold aid in the development of flavor. Now, with blue cheese, all the molds are a variant of penicillium roqueforti, named after the French king of blues. According to cheese legend out there, this mold was accidentally introduced to a batch of cheese when the cheese maker brushed up against some especially ripe (and moldy) rye bread somewhere between his house and the cheese house. So, though all blues stem from this kind of mold, the different strains express different flavors, from sweet chocolate fudge to barnyard to black pepper.

Now for the million dollar question: how does the blue get into the cheese? Contrary to popular belief, blue mold is not injected into the cheese. I mean, it seems like the most logical explanation, right? You see all those blue streaks running through the cheese and you think it must be blasted in there somehow. However, the blue mold in cheese grows in a much more old fashioned way, with a little help from our good buddy oxygen. When the wheels of cheese are made, a little bit of penicillium roqueforti is mixed in with the curd. The cheese is left to ripen for about a week, and then the cheese maker comes along with his trusty little copper or stainless steel poker and gives the cheese a few good jabs. The cheeses are poked a number of times throughout the aging process to be sure that the oxygen has plenty of avenues into the wheel and voila! Wherever there is a hole, a blue vein will grow.

So go out into the world, cheese people and dazzle your friends with your newfound trivia. Who knows, you may end up on Jeopardy some day and actually use this!


Stay tuned for the next installment of Cheese Myths Debunked!


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