Gettin’ moldy

illustration by mark stivers

A lot of people don’t really like blue cheese, as they find it too biting and salty, like their tongues had been statically shocked. Considering the overwhelming strength of blues compared to many other cheeses, it’s understandable. However, just like with spicy foods, eating stronger blue cheese is all a matter of building a tolerance and understanding what makes them taste the way they do.

Blue cheeses generally are salted more. This is to encourage mold growth. The cheeses are pierced with stainless-steel needless that allow airflow. The molds that grow, such as Penicillium roqueforti, the main fungus that is used for many blues such as Gorgonzola, Stilton and Roquefort, are what give the tang and bite. The goal of cheesemakers is to balance the mold and the salt, allowing neither one to take over the milk, but rather enhance it.

The salt and biting mold is also why sweet wines and honey pair so well with blue cheeses—salt and sweet are a naturally perfect pair.

If you’re looking for a really great blue to try, the classics are all excellent. For something more modern, try Stichelton (a British riff on Stilton), Rogue River Blue or Roaring 40’s Blue.