Are you a fan of blue cheese or does the mere thought of it make you cringe?
Either way, there’s no denying that this semi-soft cheese has a distinctive smell that can be polarizing. Some people love it, while others can’t stand it.
But have you ever wondered what causes that pungent aroma? And is there a way to tell if a blue cheese has gone bad or if it’s still safe to eat?
In this article, we’ll explore the science behind blue cheese’s unique smell and give you some tips on how to select and store it properly.
So whether you’re a blue cheese aficionado or a skeptic, read on to learn more about this fascinating cheese.
What Does Blue Cheese Smell Like?
Blue cheese is known for its strong, pungent aroma that can be described as earthy, musky, and even slightly sweet. The smell comes from the Penicillium mold that is introduced before the aging process and the bacteria that form as it ages.
For some people, the smell of blue cheese can be overwhelming and even unpleasant. This may be due to a genetic component that affects their tolerance for moldy blue cheese.
Stinky cheeses, which are smear-ripened or have a washed rind, also have a notorious odor. These cheeses are characterized by their assertive smell, which comes from the bacteria Brevibacterium linens.
The Science Of Blue Cheese’s Smell
The distinctive smell of blue cheese is a result of the Penicillium mold and bacteria that develop during the aging process. The mold and bacteria work together to create the distinct blue color and pungent aroma that blue cheese is known for. This aroma can be described as earthy, musky, and slightly sweet.
Researchers from the University of Northampton and the University of Nottingham have identified a “secondary micro-flora component” that enhances the smell of blue cheese. Specifically, they found that a yeast called Yarrowia lipolytica directly influences the distinct smell associated with blue cheese. By limiting aroma variation, cheese producers can achieve greater consistency in production.
For some people, the smell of blue cheese can be overwhelming and even unpleasant. This may be due to a genetic component that affects their tolerance for moldy blue cheese. Stinky cheeses, which are smear-ripened or have a washed rind, also have a notorious odor due to the bacteria Brevibacterium linens.
What Causes The Pungent Aroma?
The pungent aroma of blue cheese is caused by the introduction of Penicillium mold and the bacteria that form during the aging process. The mold, which is added to the cheese before it ages, creates the characteristic blue or green veins throughout the cheese. As the cheese ages, bacteria such as Brevibacterium linens also contribute to the aroma. These bacteria are responsible for other strong odors, such as foot odor and other human body odors, and are often used in the production of other strong-smelling cheeses.
The aging process of blue cheese is carefully controlled to promote the formation of aroma compounds that define its distinct taste and smell. During maturation, the cheese is pierced regularly to allow air to flow through it, which is necessary for the development of the mold and bacteria. Proteolysis and lipolysis in blue cheese are particularly intense, resulting in the formation of a range of volatile compounds such as methyl ketones (heptanone and nonanone) that contribute to its pungent aroma.
The type and amount of mold and bacteria used in the production of blue cheese can also affect its aroma. Researchers have identified a strain of yeast called Y. lipolytica that directly influences the distinct smell associated with blue cheese. Limiting aroma variation is paramount to producing more consistent blue cheeses.
Is Blue Cheese Safe To Eat?
Blue cheese is generally safe to eat, but it can go bad just like any other cheese. Spoiled blue cheese can cause food poisoning and even expose you to harmful mycotoxins. It’s important to know how to spot the difference between a good blue cheese and one that’s gone bad.
According to Wisconsin master cheesemaker Carie Wagner, good blue cheese should have greenish-blue veins and a body that’s cream to white in color. If you notice growths that look different from the blue cheese’s intended mold, such as fuzzy gray or black patches of mold or shiny pink or yellow spots of yeast, it’s likely a sign the cheese has gone bad. Cheese that is slimy or feels tough and dry has also likely spoiled. Additionally, if you smell the cheese and detect an odor that reminds you of ammonia, this is also a sign of spoilage.
It’s best to buy blue cheese in smaller quantities at a time since it doesn’t have as long of a shelf life as some other varieties due to its active molds and high moisture levels. If you notice any signs of spoilage on your blue cheese, you should discard it immediately to prevent food poisoning and exposure to harmful mycotoxins. By using your senses and basic judgment, you can ensure that you’re enjoying blue cheese safely.
How To Select And Store Blue Cheese Properly
When selecting blue cheese, it’s important to look for greenish-blue veins and a body that’s cream to white in color. The cheese should have a pungent aroma, but not one that smells like ammonia. If the cheese smells like ammonia, it’s an indication that it has spoiled and should not be consumed.
To ensure that your blue cheese stays fresh, it’s best to store it in the refrigerator. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil to prevent air from getting in and causing the cheese to dry out. It’s also a good idea to store blue cheese away from other foods in the refrigerator to prevent cross-contamination.
If you notice that your blue cheese is growing different colors of mold, its texture is changing, or it’s just looking different from how it did when you originally got it, then it’s best to throw it away. Fuzzy gray or black patches of mold or shiny pink or yellow spots of yeast are indications that your blue cheese is past the point of no return. Cheese that is slimy or feels tough and dry has also likely spoiled.
Pairing Blue Cheese With Other Foods
Blue cheese is a versatile cheese that can be paired with a variety of foods to enhance its flavor. Some traditional pairings include fresh fig, pear and apple slices, dried fruits, walnuts, chutneys, some jams, honey, truffle, chocolate, sherry, ports, stouts and of course wine. However, the best food to eat with blue cheese is vegetables because they add a savory note that makes it taste even better. The most popular way to appreciate blue cheese is in a salad.
When it comes to pairing blue cheese with wine, it’s important to consider the type of wine you’re drinking. While red wine is statistically more popular than white wine, cheese does not discriminate and can be paired with both. For white wine drinkers, Chardonnay pairs perfectly with Cello’s signature Copper Kettle cheese, while Pinot Grigio goes well with mozzarella or other fresh, young cheeses like cheddar and gouda. Champagne pairs well with fattier, more decadent cheeses like mascarpone or goat cheese, while Riesling is extremely versatile and can be paired with sweet or dry cheeses like aged gouda or brie.
In addition to wine, blue cheese can also be paired with other foods such as crackers, breads, and meats like prosciutto or salami. The key is to find complementary flavors that balance the strong flavor of the blue cheese. For example, pairing blue cheese with sweet fruits like figs or pears can help balance out its pungent flavor. Adding nuts like walnuts or almonds can also add a nice crunch and nuttiness to the pairing.
Blue Cheese Varieties To Try
If you’re a fan of blue cheese or looking to expand your cheese palate, there are a variety of blue cheese options to try. Here are a few:
1. Roquefort: This French blue cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has a strong, salty taste with a creamy texture. It has a distinct aroma that is earthy and slightly sweet.
2. Gorgonzola: This Italian blue cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a milder taste than Roquefort. It has a creamy texture with blue-green veins throughout and a slightly nutty flavor.
3. Stilton: This English blue cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a crumbly texture with blue veins throughout. It has a strong, tangy flavor with a slightly sweet finish.
4. Danish Blue: This blue cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a creamy texture with blue veins throughout. It has a mild taste with a slightly sweet finish.
5. Maytag Blue: This American blue cheese is made from cow’s milk and has a crumbly texture with blue veins throughout. It has a tangy, salty taste with a slightly sweet finish.
Each of these blue cheeses has its own unique flavor profile and aroma, so it’s worth trying them all to find your favorite. And if you’re still hesitant about the smell, give them a chance – you might just develop a taste for the pungent, earthy aroma of blue cheese.