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Blue cheese can be the great divider. Some love it, some hate it. However, increasingly there are blue cheeses made for the “beginner taster”.

First of all let me dispel the myth that copper wire is still used to create the edible mould in blue cheese.  The mould grows when air is introduced during the cheesemaking process.  Some artisanal cheesemakers apparently use knitting needles to poke their cheese, however most cheesemakers these days use steel rods. But let’s start from the beginning.

The texture of blue cheese varies from very soft and creamy, almost spreadable, right through to crumbly and verging on the dry side.  The age of the cheese is the best determinant of texture, with young cheeses being soft and older cheeses being dryer.

All cheese starts with milk, salt and a coagulant such as an acid or rennet.  This mixture is heated to form curds and whey, the whey is drained and the curds are pressed and/or shaped.  What happens next determines both the quality and the characteristics of the finished cheese.

Part 1 of my cheese culture series covers fresh or curd cheese while Part 2 covers semi-hard and hard cheeses.  My love of the blues, means that Part 3 is devoted just to them. click on the links to catch up on the other posts.

Blue cheese is made along the lines of white mould cheese, like camembert or brie, except instead of being sprayed with mould to encourage surface bacteria, bacteria is mixed through the curds just before they are shaped.  After shaping, the cheese is ‘needled’ – pierced to create little tunnels to allow air to enter and feed the bacteria, encouraging the mould veins.

What is Penicillium roqueforti?
This is the name of the naturally occurring bacteria, reportedly discovered in France way back in 74AD.  That first blue cheese, Roquefort, made from sheep’s milk, was the granted the first AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) in 1925 decreeing, amongst other things, that the Penicillium roqueforti used in production must be from the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.  Roquefort remains one of the most loved and best known blues in the world.

Italy’s best known blue
There are two varieties of Italian Gorgonzola, both made from cows’ milk: the sweet, buttery Gorgonzola Dolce and its older sister, Gorgonzola Piccante, which is saltier and crumblier.  Penicillium roqueforti is also used in the cheesemaking process to create Gorgonzola’s characteristic green-blue mould.

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Gorgonzola

Don’t forget the English
Stilton was first made in the village of Stilton, in Cambridgeshire in 1730.  Surprisingly the village of Stilton is no longer entitled to make its namesake cheese; when the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin – England’s answer to France’s AOC) was granted in 1996 Cambridgeshire was not one of the three sanctioned counties – Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire.  Although, this type of blue cheese is still made in Stilton, but called Village Cheese.

Or the Irish
Ireland’s best known blue came to life a lot later that its French, Italian and English cousins.  The Grubb family from Beechmount Farm in Tipperary began making Cashel Blue, named after local landmark The Rock of Cashel, in the late 1980s. The cheese is made by Grubb family members and assorted village locals in the traditional way with Penicillium roqueforti and sold around the world.

Some of the best Australian blues are

  • Victoria’s Tarago River make three cows’ milk blues:  the mildest and creamiest is Shadows of Blue, designed to tempt the non-blue lover. Next is robust Blue Orchid, encased in blue wax, still soft but ‘bluer’ than Shadows.  Topping the strength scale is Gippsland Blue, naturally rinded with a strong, savoury taste for lovers of the blues.
  • Milawa Cheese Company’s Milawa Blue is a favourite of many.  At the sweet, creamier end of the scale I love it spread on a cut ripe fig with glass of sparkling shiraz.  Milawa have an Aged Blue too – which after being stored in their cellars for six months becomes stronger and more complex.
  • Hunter Belle Blue Moon is a semi-hard, blue cheese made specfically to entice non-blue lovers to trial it. so it’s creamy and fruity on the palate, but still with that appealing strain of blue through it.

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Milawa Blue

Cheese Lovers’ Festival

Last weekend I took part in Hunter Valley’s very first Cheese Lovers’ Festival.  The chefs at Sebel Kirkton Park and I collaborated to create an innovative three course cheese menu which while it celebrated cheese, did not over-burden our palates. The menu was used for both a dinner and a lunch which Bruce Tyrrell and I hosted. On Saturday morning it was a pleasure to meet some dedicated cheese lovers at my cheese workshop. As promised I have included my recipes in this newsletter. My thanks to Hunter Belle Cheese & Kurrajong Kitchen Lavosh for supplying me with fantastic produce for my class.  As if I hadn’t enjoyed enough cheese, I ended with judging the Cheesecake competition. There were some incredible entries like one with unusual Thai flavours,  “Berry Delicious” with berry lava inside New York cheesecake, Baklava cheesecake and the winner’s from Sharon Cheese (yes, that’s her name!)  was an affogato cheesecake. It had a beautiful smooth texture, the flavours of affogato – coffee, amaretto with  dark and white chocolate  layers and shards of toffee and slices of almond bread around it. All the elements you might find if you ordered an affogato! She had made her own quark for the filling and another entrant had made her own yoghurt and ricotta foe hers.  The contestants were delightful and the marks were very, very close. Most of them had driven long distances with their creations!  It was hard to choose only one winner!

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                             Cheese Workshop, Bruce Tyrrell and me hosting Dinner

Last weekend I took part in Hunter Valley’s very first Cheese Lovers’ Festival.  The chefs at Sebel Kirkton Park and I collaborated to create an innovative three course cheese menu which while it celebrated cheese, did not over-burden our palates. The menu was used for both a dinner and a lunch which Bruce Tyrrell and I hosted. On Saturday morning it was a pleasure to meet some dedicated cheese lovers at my cheese workshop. Subscribe at the bottom of the page to get recipes from my cheese workshop. My thanks to Hunter Belle Cheese & Kurrajong Kitchen Lavosh for supplying me with fantastic produce for my class.  As if I hadn’t enjoyed enough cheese, I ended with judging the Cheesecake competition. There were some incredible entries like one with unusual Thai flavours,  “Berry Delicious” with berry lava inside New York cheesecake, Baklava cheesecake and the winner’s from Sharon Cheese (yes, that’s her name!)  was an affogato cheesecake. It had a beautiful smooth texture, the flavours of affogato – coffee, amaretto with  dark and white chocolate  layers and shards of toffee and slices of almond bread around it. All the elements you might find if you ordered an affogato! She had made her own quark for the filling and another entrant had made her own yoghurt and ricotta foe hers.  The contestants were delightful and the marks were very, very close. Most of them had driven long distances with their creations!  It was hard to choose only one winner!

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Assiette of Hunter Valley cheese: Binnorie Dairy goats cheese spring roll, Twice baked cheddar & polenta souffle, Baked Camembelle; Sous vide Labna stuffed chicken breast, heirloom tomatoes, asparagus & potato gnocchi with a verjuice reduction.

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Triple cream brie semi freddo, quince & port syrup & honey toasted pistachios & Entrants in the Cheesecake competition.

While I was in the Hunter Valley, I also visited UsherTinkler Wines and Salumi Bar. In on old church, it is an appealing stop for freshly sliced salumi and cheese (not that I could eat any by that stage…..) and some wine.

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The converted church,  Usher & Ebony Tinkler

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A plate of salumi & cold meats, me enjoying the wine and salumi

As if that wasn’t enough, I then went with friends to Bistro Molines In Mount View Road. The menu is supplemented with many daily specials and my picks were the de-boned pig’s trotter pie with a red wine jus, a special of squab, lovely baby lamb and then the lightest dessert possible!

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De-Boned Pig’s Trotter Pie, Special of Squab & Assorted Sorbet