Cheese Royals: The Heritage Of Blue Veins In Culinary History
Image Credit: Blue Cheese | Pixabay

There are different folklore surrounding this fascinating cheese. One story suggests that a farmer left behind his lunch to chase a beautiful lady and the other says he ran away after seeing bandits from a distance. Both the stories have this narrative in common: it was left behind by the shepherd. Either way, he leaves his lunch behind in the cave and comes back after several days to discover a blue mould covering the cheese.

The shepherd was disgusted and fascinated at the same time by looking at the cheese. He isn't really put off by the mould on the cheese, so he eats it and discovers a delectable blue cheese in the process.

Even after a lot of folklore surrounds this cheese, there isn't a definitive answer to where and how these cheeses originated.

Since the first discovery of blue cheese, several variations of blue cheese have been formed all across the world.

Blue cheese, known for its distinct blue-green spots or veins, comes in various tastes and consistencies, ranging from mild to strong, sweet to salty, and liquid to firm. These cheeses owe their unique characteristics to cultures of edible moulds that are added during their production.

The story of blue cheese traces back to an accidental discovery when cheeses were stored in caves with naturally controlled temperature and moisture levels, perfect for the growth of harmless moulds. In the salt mines of Hallstatt, Austria, samples from ancient times show that people around 800 to 400 BC consumed blue cheese alongside beer.

One popular legend tells the story of Roquefort, where a young boy, leaving his meal of bread and ewes' milk cheese in a cave after seeing a girl, discovered that mould (Penicillium roqueforti) transformed his cheese into Roquefort upon his return months later.

Among the earliest blue cheeses is Gorgonzola, believed to have originated around AD 879, although it didn't have its blue veins until later. Stilton, emerging in the early 1700s, became a newer addition. Over time, many variations like Danablu and Cambozola were created to meet the demand for cheeses similar to Roquefort.

The process of making blue cheese involves six standard steps, yet it requires additional ingredients and procedures to achieve its distinct qualities. Large-scale production involves culturing spore-rich inocula and fermentation to attain maximum flavour.

Initially, a Penicillium roqueforti inoculum is prepared before the actual production, using freeze-dried cultures. This inoculum, combined with cheese curds, contributes to the distinctive blue cheese flavour. The process includes pasteurization, acidification, coagulation, curd cutting, and the addition of the inoculum. The cheese then undergoes whey drainage, salting, and ripening for 60–90 days under controlled temperature and humidity.

While Penicillium roqueforti creates the blue veins in the cheese, it also produces mycotoxins. However, their presence in blue cheese is typically at low levels, reducing health risks.

Image Credit: Pixabay

The flavour, aroma, and structure of blue cheese result from the aggregation of casein, mold growth, and the breakdown of fat. Additionally, certain blue cheeses, such as Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort, have protected designations of origin in specific regions, ensuring their production methods and quality.

Blue cheese, with its diverse flavours and unique production process, continues to be a cherished and protected culinary delight across various cultures.