Is crumbled blue cheese any good?
Published June 1, 2017. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 11: Summer Steak and Salad
Wedges of blue cheese are great for cheese plates, but precrumbled blue cheese, sold in plastic tubs, is a convenient shortcut. It saves you the messy step of breaking up a block by hand, and the crumbles are just the right size for sprinkling over a salad or measuring for dips, dressings, stuffings, sauces, and more.
To find the best crumbled blue cheese, we surveyed the market and chose five top-selling products, priced from $2.84 to $6.49 per 4- to 8-ounce package. We’re not talking about Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola here, as the majority of crumbled blue cheese sold in the United States is made from cow’s milk, aged for at least 60 days, and known simply as “blue cheese.” A panel of 21 tasters sampled each of the five products in three blind taste tests: plain, in blue cheese dressing, and toasted on crostini. The goal was to find a rich, creamy cheese with a pungent, balanced sharpness or funk.
We noticed right away that tasters preferred cheeses that were bluer in color, finding them “intensely tangy and pungent,” while they compared whiter cheeses to “feta” or “cheddar.” The trend held for dressing, too; those made with whiter cheeses were fine but lacked blue cheese’s signature “blue” flavor and thus tasted more like ranch or mayonnaise. The blue color in blue cheese is mold, so we knew we liked moldier cheeses. To understand why, we took a deeper dive into how blue cheese is made.
First off, bluer blue cheeses are more flavorful because the blue mold produces an enzyme that reacts with the cheese, creating potent flavor compounds called ketones that give the cheese its characteristic flavor. To make blue cheese, mold spores are added to the milk early in the cheese-making process. Like seeds in soil, the mold spores germinate and grow as the cheese ages. We asked cheese-industry experts if our top-ranking cheeses simply had more spores added, but they said no. Mold needs oxygen to grow, and how blue a blue cheese is depends largely on how much oxygen it has been exposed to—more oxygen means more flavorful mold.
Cheese makers can expose the mold spores in the cheese to oxygen in two ways: by creating a more porous cheese that traps air inside or by poking holes in the cheese after it’s formed to ventilate the interior. Some manufacturers exposed their cheeses to more oxygen, and we liked these products more.
Yet while tasters had a clear preference for sharper cheeses, our second-place cheese, from Boar’s Head, was too much for some—it was so funky it practically had a horn section. We recommend it because our tasting panel liked robust blue-cheese flavor, but it might not be for those who prefer a milder flavor...
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Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.