Sometimes it's Good to Have the Blues

Cabrales cheese, that is. Don’t be scared! Tangy, salty, pungent blue cheese is not everyone’s taste, I know. But in order to stimulate some blue sales (and turn you on to something mighty tasty), we’ve decided to Feature some of the blues we have in stock, offering samples, recipes, wine pairings...and a 20% discount from the regular sale price.
     It must have been about fifth grade or so when I learned about “The Cradle of Civilization,” that troublesome place between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (now called Iraq) where our ancestors discovered the utility of herding various herbivorous mammals, mostly sheep and goats. Herders milked their animals every day, but some of them must have tried to store the milk for later. One convenient carrying device (since these animals were general stores on the hoof) was the stomach of a young kid. Lo and behold, that carrying bag had enzymes in it that curdled the milk. When the liquid part (whey) was allowed to run out through a grass basket, they had cheese. Yummy!
     They figured the cheese would keep longer if they put it in a cool place, like a cave. Then another one of those food miracles occurred. The cave’s cool and damp environment was perfect for some kinds of fungus to grow. Mr. Sumerian Cheesemaker, being hungry, and not being as squeamish as later generations, decided to eat the moldy cheese anyway. Yummy! The molds gave the cheeses different flavor profiles and seemed to protect them from the really yucky molds that destroy milk and make us sick. I love this kind of discovery. I’m always wondering whether this kind of thing was worked out bit by bit over many generations or there was some kind of Cheese Genius who did tasty experiments in his cave. Anyway, one of the fungus families that is commonly lurking in cool, damp soil is Penicillium. It was many, many generations before rational, scientific experimenters discovered that one of those Penicillium molds could be made into the first antibiotic. In the meantime, successive generations of European ancestors identified the Penicillium strains that made the best-tasting cheeses. You will not be surprised that the two most widely used in cheese-making are called P. camemberti and P. roqueforti. Sounds like blue cheese to me!
Now a quick profile of the cheeses we’re Featuring:
Bel Gioioso Crumbly Gorgonzola (Wisconsin) Regular $8.00/lb, Feature $6.40/lb
A white cheese with blue veins, this is not truly “Gorgonzola” because it isn’t made in Italy. But the founder of Bel Gioioso, Errico Auricchio, learned cheesemaking from his father in Italy and moved to Wisconsin in 1979 to make great Italian style cheeses for the American market. As the name suggests, this one is good for crumbling over a salad or onto any dish for an added salty tang.
Royal Blue Stilton (England) Regular $14.25/pound, Feature $11.40/pound
This is the real thing, an EU registered mark of quality that requires it only be made in three counties (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire). This is a “yellow” blue that gets its color from the rich cream that is used. If you want to know everything there is to know about making Stilton, using and keeping Stilton, recipes, etc. they have a delightful website: Chef Yvonne tells the story of her working class father in London making himself an after-dinner “pudding” (what Brits call dessert) of Stilton cheese, Port wine and leftover bread. Yummy!
Cabrales (Asturias, Spain) Regular $28.20/pound, Feature $22.56
This is the strongest of the lot. Though its rough-looking aspect and pale green color can be off-putting to the novice, to the true blue cheese lover, this is a gem. The cheese is a mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk from livestock raised in a small area of the Picos de Europa. The milk is blended and cooked, then curdled with rennet and the whey separated. After the initial curing period of around two weeks, the Cabrales is then aged a further two to five months in natural caves in the limestone mountains of the area. The cheeses are placed on wooden shelves known as talameras, where they are periodically turned and cleaned. Relative humidity in these caves is typically 90% and the temperature is a cool 7–13 °C (45–55 °F), conditions favoring the development of penicillium molds that produce blue-green veins throughout the cheese. A cake of Cabrales, looks nasty, as if it’s way past its sell-by date. But it has a sharpness and bite like no other.
Food Uses and Recipes
Because of its strong taste, blue cheese is often used more as a condiment than as a main ingredient. Everyone knows about blue cheese crumbles on salad, but how about spreading Stilton on raisin bread toast? And you can really kick up your Mac’n Cheese if you use three cheeses, one of them being a strong blue. One of our favorite uses of the Cabrales is to melt a piece of it on a steak that’s just come off the grill. You can use blue anytime you want to add a salty tang, or you can add it as a counterpoint to something sweet. Have you ever had the Chocolate Blue Cheese Pecan Pie Chef Yvonne makes? Oh, my!
Wine Pairing with Blue Cheese
The traditional pairing with strong blues is sweet dessert wines like Sauternes or Porto or sweet Sherry. That’s fine for dessert, but I wouldn’t want to drink those wines with my meal; and as I indicated above, the sharp flavors of blue are a great addition to the flavors of the main dish. A fruity, soft white like Vouvray or other Chenin Blancs is a good balance, as is a fruity red like Zinfandel or Garnacha. Or you can pair a cheese with the wine of its home region. If I’m using Cabrales with steak, I go for the Tempranillo-based wines of Rioja and Ribera del Duero. If the blue is in a cheesy pasta dish, how about a Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany?
So don’t be afraid of the blues. Sometimes they’re great to have.