Anyhow, we traded URLs and parted ways, but not before we spoke about blue* cheese, and I mentioned that the cheese on hand was easily one of my top five favorite blue cheeses. Kirsten—that was her name, you see—asked what the others were, and I couldn't think of them straight off the top of me head. In a (very complimentary) recent post on her blog, she made a call for me to publish my list in full, and so I present it to you here.
At the behest of the Tollipop Empire, I give you:
My Top 5 Blue Cheeses:
(in vaguely ascending order)
Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen BlueThe folks at Jasper Hill make amazing cheeses, and this cloth-bound beauty is among my favorites from them. It has a thick smoothness and a back note of licorice that I really love, and the wheel gets serious points just for aesthetics. It's tall, lean, sandy-blond with blue eyes. If it worked for MI-6, it'd be the Daniel Craig of blue cheeses. Find a slice sometime and lay it on some thin sliced hearty bread and retire to a happier, cheesier place.
Point Reyes BlueFrom the fogs of the Northern California coastline emerges this creamy, soft, fruity blue. The cows that provide the milk eat grass all year long, and the organic cheese that results is lighter in flavor and much brighter than other blues. It is almost spread-ably soft, and to smear it on a toasted bun before adding a grilled patty of ground beef would be, while un-koser, most definitely a good idea. It's named for the Point Reyes National Seashore, which is described on the park's website as a "natural sanctuary, a human haven." This cheese is a haven and sanctuary from the heavy, bitter, dark flavors of the blue cheese that you think of when you think "I don't really like blue cheese."
Roaring Forties BlueWhere to begin...
Yum. Let's start there. This is the only cheese of which I am aware from Tasmania. Yes, the one south of Australia. King's Island, the home of the cheese, is located roughly 40º south of the equator, hence the name which comes from the (in)famous winds that sweep that region of the globe. Legend has it that grass seed and straw from wrecked ships got caught in the currents and washed ashore here, thus providing the good forage of, say, Normandy, for cows in the land down under.
Whether that be the case or not, the salty, sea-based terroir of the cheese is apparent. The taste of the sea is wrapped up in that dark blue wax. And that blue wax is important, because when they age the cheese in that wax, it retains more moisture than cloth-wrapped specimens. So what you get is a soft, thick, cream colored cheese with blue pockets and stripes. The flavor profile is fascinating, and includes strong notes of blueberry. I used this cheese, more than any other, to convince people that they do like blues. Want to make something spectacular? chop up a few ripe pears, toss them with chunks of this, drizzle with honey, and call it the most amazing fruit salad ever.
Shropshire BlueWhat, not Stilton? No. But it was a close call. Stilton is the classic English blue, it's true, but there's something more to a Shropshire than there is to a Stilton. Shropshire is a bandage wrapped yellow blue cheese—as in the color of American cheddar, but it's blue veined. The visual appeal of this cheese is stunning, and the striking contrast gives way on your palate to a caramel-y richness and a hint of pipe tobacco. It is, in many ways, like a good aged cheddar, but not so sharp. It has a roundness that is comforting and warming as an old knit sweater on a drizzly fall day. If only it came in argyle...
Rogue River BlueHere, my friends, is a winner. Yes, Rogue River Creamery makes a blue that is smoked over local hazelnut shells. Doesn't that sound delicious? So. Freaking. What. This is the epitome of artisan blue cheese making. The cows for this cheese forage happily in the hills and mountains all summer, then they are brought back down for milking. This cheese is only made between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, so production is very limited. But is that what makes it awesome? Well, yes, but that's not all. The terroir of the herbaceous mountains is added to and augmented by the finish: each wheel is lovingly wrapped in syrah grape laves that have been macerated in locally made pear brandy. What this cheese tastes like—and I say this with all seriousness and deference—is three seasons wrapped into one in the Oregon countryside. It is a masterful mixing of the flavors and textures of a specific land. The timing of the "harvest" paired with the leaves of summer and the flavor of winter in the pear brandy come together to make a symphony of a cheese. If you see this for sale from your local monger, buy it. I don't care about the price.
So, there you have it. My favorite blues. I hope you have the chance to taste them sometime. It will be worth the trouble to find them!
*As a side note/rant, I want to get something straight. It's "blue" cheese, not "bleu" cheese. Unless, of course, you are talking about a french blue cheese. But then, if you're not translating "blue" from the french, then why are you translating "cheese?" It should be "fromage bleu," not "bleu cheese." It's called blue cheese because the microorganisms in it make a green color that, when exposed to oxygen, turns blue. Let's call it blue. It is. "Bleu" is a fake way of making food sound "gourmet," whatever that means.