In my recent post on homemade Jarlsberg, I mentioned "a couple of experiment in the aging stage." One of them was my first blue cheese (a.k.a., blue-veined cheese).
As you can see from the title, in Italian we don't say formaggio blu (blue cheese). My dictionary translates blue cheese with an expression that means gorgonzola-like cheese (formaggio tipo gorgonzola), gorgonzola being the justly famous Italian blue cheese.
I obtained freeze-dried spores of Penicillium roqueforti (a dark green powder) and chose a type of blue cheese that would not need a long aging, so I could assess the result relatively quickly. In the book 200 Easy Homemade Cheese Recipes by Debra Amrein-Boyes,1 I found the recipe for Fourme d'Ambert and chose it as my first foray into blue cheese territory.
In the Cowgirl Creamery Library of Cheese, Fourme d'Ambert is described as "the chocolate of blue cheese" (I didn't know this when I made the cheese: it would have provided an additional reason to make it). On this page, you can see that Fourme d'Ambert has PDO status (Protected Designation of Origin, AOC in French, DOP in Italian). Authentic Fourme d'Ambert carries the relevant label.
Making the cheese did not pose any special challenge. Penicillium roqueforti is added to the milk together with mesophilic culture at the beginning. After the cheese had completed its pressing and drying period, I did the second thing that distinguishes the making of blue cheese: I pierced holes through the cheese using thin metal skewers (previously sterilized). This step brings oxygen inside the cheese and allows the mold to develop and form the blue (blue-green, blue-gray) veins and patches that give the cheese its distinctive look and flavor.
For this step, I actually followed directions as stated in the recipe for blue cheese in the book Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll. I pierced the cheese from top to bottom and then let the cheese rest on its side (on a wooden, slightly concave support) in its aging location, which is a dorm-size fridge adjusted to keep a temperature of 50-54 F (one of these days, I will show a photo of it). I then gave the cheese a quarter turn on its side every four days so it would not become misshapen.
We tasted it after a bit more than a month of aging (the recipe says it is ready after four weeks), and I was very happy with the result: the balance of flavor and texture was totally to my satisfaction. As you can read on this page, Fourme d'Ambert is one "of the mildest of the blue cheeses," which suits me perfectly. I have never tasted the original Fourme d'Ambert, so I cannot describe how my rendition differs, but I can tell you that what came out of my first attempt is really good.
We've been eating it plain, on some of my homemade crackers and bread. A couple of nights ago, however, I cut tiny wedges, placed them on halved black mission figs and put them in the oven, under the broiler on low, just until the cheese and figs had warmed slightly. Sorry, no photo: I was too busy eating.
As you can imagine, I am planning to make another blue cheese soon. In the meantime, there are a couple of experiments in the aging stage, which will be ready for tasting in due time, so stay tuned for the next post on my cheese-making adventures (avventure casearie).
1 I refer you to the book for the recipe details (some apply to cheese making in general, some to the specific cheese).
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the formaggio tipo gorgonzola audio file [mp3].
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