Too often its seems that blue cheeses are dismissed as “too strong” or “too pungent”. When we think of “blue cheese”, it’s easy to lump them all together in one category – salt bombs that punch you in the mouth with intensity.
Well we’re setting the record straight. Not all blue cheeses are the same! There is as much variety as with any other style cheese – some are nutty, some briny, some buttery, some are sweet – the list goes on. If you are just looking to dip your toes into the world of blue, here are 5 blues that have a smooth subtlety to ease you in:
Hailing from the Auvergne, this moist, velvety cheese is one of France’s oldest cheeses. Made from raw cow’s milk, its origin dates back to the Roman occupation of France 1,000 years ago, when it was reportedly made by the mountain dwellers in the area. It has a gentle, earthy flavor that makes it known as a great “starter” blue. It’s made with penicillium glaucum, a milder blue mold than the more common penicillium roqueforti. It’s not terribly common to find European raw milk blues around, so scoop it up! Paired with Sauternes, this creamy blue makes a delicious dessert.
A blend of sheep & cow’s milk from Asturias, Spain, La Peral is made by third generation cheesemaker Esther Alvarez and her husband Jose Luis Lopez at the family’s dairy. The cheesemaking operation was founded at the beginning of the 20th century (very early by Spanish standards) and La Peral is named after a local village. This blue has a fudgy texture and a milky, meaty, sweet flavor. Ignore its slightly stinky aroma – it’s much milder on the palate, partly owing to only a light smattering of blue mold. However, the addition of sheep’s cream adds another layer of complexity in this mellow cheese. Pair with oloroso sherry for a mellow treat.
Bayley Hazen Blue
Already an American classic, this flaky, nutty cow’s milk blue comes from the Kehler brothers up at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Bayley Hazen is named for an old military road that traverses the Northeast Kingdom. The road, commissioned by George Washington, was built to carry troops to fight the English on the Canadian front. Though no battle ever took place, the road brought the first settlers to Greensboro. This cheese melts like milk chocolate on the tongue, and is almost like a less intense version of Stilton. It has nutty, smooth, deep notes without being overpowering. Try with a tawny port for an indulgent dessert.
Great Hill Blue
Located in Marion, MA, on the shores of Buzzard’s Bay, Great Hill Dairy is known for its unique tasting blue cheese made in its turn-of-the-century barn. Tim Stone began raising his herd of Guernsey cows and making cheese in 1996 on land originally purchased by his great-grandfather. Now made only using cow’s milk from local farms, this raw milk, handmade cheese is crumbly with a creamy mouthfeel. We call it “blue cheese ice cream” because it’s sweet, milky and creamy. Great Hill Blue sharp flavors play off a sweeter dessert wine, like Sauternes, quite well.
Bleu des Basques
Pre-dating even the famous Roquefort, this sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees in beautiful Basque country has a rustic style and unique flavor. The green hills are full of the wildflowers and fresh grasses that give the milk its richness and complexity. When young, Bleu des Basques has a creamy firmness and small blue-green veins. As it ages it becomes softer, with deeper, darker veining and a more pronounced “blueness.” Its flavor is intense, though never overly salty or sharp, with a wonderful combination of earthy spiciness and hints of apricot. Pair this rich cheese with its regional partner, Pacherenc di Vic-Bilh.
- All of these blues will pair well with thinly sliced baguette or toasted fruit-and-nutbread. Add an element of sweetness with fresh figs or dates, or lightly candied nuts.
- Don’t forget to take the cheese out of the fridge half an hour before serving, and if you have leftovers (which hopefully you won’t!), blue cheese is the one type that can be wrapped directly and tightly in plastic wrap.
- Go forth and taste these blues with confidence that your palate will remain unharmed, and report back!