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How Blue Cheese is Made

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How Blue Cheese is Made

Stilton Cheese

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The process of making blue cheese follows the same six standard steps used to make most cheeses. So where do those blue/green streaks come from? The unique look of blue cheese is a result of a specific type of mold added during the cheesemaking process and an additional step in the ageing process called “needling”.

Beneficial Bacteria

The molds added to blue cheese are derived from the genus Penicillium. The most widely used molds in blue-veined cheeses are Penicillium Roqueforti and Penicillium Glaucum. These fungi are found commonly in nature and were “discovered” by cheesemakers ageing their cheeses in damp, cool caves.

Exactly when this helpful bacteria is added during the cheesemaking process depends on the type of cheese being made. When blue cheese is made, it's often introduced after the curds are ladled into containers to drain and form into a whole wheel of cheese.

Today, most cheesemakers use commercially manufactured Penicillium Roqueforti cultures that are freeze-dried. Anyone can order powdered cultures in the mail.

Penicillium Roqueforti

This mold is named after a French town called Roquefort with caves full of naturally occurring Penicillium mold spores. It is cheesemakers in the town of Roquefort who created, and still make, the famous blue cheese called Roquefort.

Original recipes for Roquefort cheese required that cheesemakers leave loaves of rye bread in the caves near the town. The loaves became hosts to the ambient mold in the air. After a month or so, the mold inside the loaves of bread was dried, ground and combined with cheese curd. (Remember, the bread simply acted as a host for the ambient mold spores in the cave; Penicillium Roqueforti is not the same type of mold that grows on any old loaf of bread one might leave out.) To further encourage the growth of mold that flavored the cheese, the wheels of cheese were then aged inside the same caves.

The Second Crucial Step: Needling

After mold cultures are introduced to blue cheese, the “needling” begins. Wheels of cheese are pierced, either by hand or by a device that can poke many tiny holes at once, to create tiny openings. Air enters the wheel of cheese through these tiny holes, feeding the mold and encouraging the blue/green veins form.

While the mold cultures and needling contribute largely to the flavor and texture of blue cheese, other factors are always at play. What type of milk is used, what the animals were eating before they were milked and the slightly different techniques used by all cheesemaker insure that every blue cheese around the world will have its own distinct flavor.

Making Blue Cheese at Home

Blue cheese is not easy to make at home, but if you're interested in trying then consider checking out the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company website for helpful recipes and cheesemaking kits.

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