While all cheese can grow mold, there is a selection of cheeses specifically—and deliberately—infused with mold to enhance flavor. This edible—a term I use loosely here—mold comes from the Penicillium genus of molds that also include Penicillium Chrysogenum—the source for the infamous antibiotic molecule: penicillin. Despite the proposed edibility of the penicillium molds, their inclusion in cheeses and other food stuffs, such as ham and sausage, pose a serious threat to those suffering from fungal infections, which is why we’ll be covering the top five moldy cheeses on the market and why you need to steer clear of them.
All deliberately-moldy cheese falls under the category of “blue cheese” or “bleu cheese,” even if the cheese appears to be laced with green, gray, or black-colored penicillium molds.
The origin of blue cheeses is said to have been Roquefort, France, but there are several regions of Europe that attempt to lay claim to being first. Regardless, the origin story is always the same. In the Middle Ages, a cheesemaker accidentally left behind a half-eaten piece of bread in his cheese cellar/cave. That bread developed mold which then spread to the nearby cheese, causing what we know today as “blue cheese.”
This begs the question: If—like any normal person—he is not likely to eat moldy bread, what in the world would compel him to take a bite of moldy cheese—and how was he able to convince others to do the same, let alone pay for it? Oh well, I suppose the details of this origin story will forever be shrouded in mystery.
The Top Five Moldy Cheeses
Without further ado, here is the list of the top five blue cheeses:
1. Danish Blue Cheese (Danablu)
More commonly known as Danish Blue Cheese throughout the United States, Danablu—a product of Denmark—is a strong, semi-soft, blue-veined creamery cheese. Typically produced in a drum- or block-shaped form, it has a yellowish, slightly moist, edible rind and is derived from full fat cow’s milk and homogenized cream. It has a fat content of 25–30% and takes eight to twelve weeks to age properly. Before aging fully, however, it is run through with copper wires/rods, which are used to distribute the mold evenly throughout the body of the cheese. The holes can still be seen in the finished product, especially once the wheel is cut open for consumption.
Danablu was created by a Danish cheesemaker in the 20th century, named Marius Boel. His intention was to recreate a blue cheese that could rival the French Roquefort. Thus, he switched from traditional Denmark goat’s milk to full-fat cow’s milk to increase the creaminess—and Danish Blue Cheese was born. Compared to Roquefort, it has a milder flavor that is characterized by a sharp, salty taste and, like most blue cheeses, it is served as a crumble on salads or as a dessert cheese accompanied by various fruits. In Denmark, however, it is traditionally served on bread or sandwiched within savory biscuits.
Danablu is one of three Danish cheeses that have been given Protected Geographical Status (PGI-marked) by the European Union (EU), which means that it is certified and can only be produced in Denmark from official Danish milk produced only at approved dairies that manufacture the cheese according to the exact specifications laid down.
In the village of Gorgonzola, located in Milan, Italy, the moldy Gorgonzola blue cheese was born. Robust and salty, it’s final form can be buttery or firm and crumbly, with a distinct “bite” from its greenish-blue mold veining. Made from unskimmed cow’s milk, the crafters add a starter bacteria to the mold spores of the Penicillium glaucum. The whey is then removed during curdling, and the result is aged at low temperatures.
During the aging process, which is between three and four months, metal rods are quickly inserted and removed, creating air channels that allow the mold spores to grow into hyphae, causing the cheese’s characteristic moldy marbling.
The length of the aging process determines the consistency of this blue cheese. The longer it is allowed to ripen, the more firm it will be. There are two varieties of Gorgonzola, which differ mainly in age: the less aged Gorgonzola Dolce (also called Sweet Gorgonzola), which has a less-salty taste and a slightly-sweet finish, and the more aged Gorgonzola Piccante (also known as Gorgonzola Naturale, Gorgonzola Montagna, or Mountain Gorgonzola).
Under EU law, Gorgonzola is registered as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO, or Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) in Italian) since 1996. This means that Gorgonzola sold in the European Union (EU) can only be authentically produced in certain provinces within Italy.
This blue cheese is made in the artisanal tradition by rural dairy farmers in Asturias, Spain. It can be made from pure, unpasteurized cow’s milk or blended in the traditional manner with goat and/or sheep milk. The blending of milks creates a distinctly more potent, spicier flavor.
Whatever milk or milk blend used is first heated and curdled by the addition of rennet. (Rennet is an extract made from the inner lining of the fourth stomach of a calf or other young ruminant.) Once curdling is accomplished, the whey is removed from the curds, which are then packed into cylindrical molds called arnios. Once packed, it is salted and left to cure and harden.
After the initial curing period of around two weeks, the Cabrales cheese is then aged another two to five months in natural caves within the limestone mountains near Asturias. The cheeses are placed on wooden shelves known as talameras, where they are periodically turned and cleaned. Because the relative humidity in these caves is typically around 90% and the temperature is a cool 7–13 °C (45–55 °F), penicillium molds are met with their favorite conditions and it isn’t long before the cheese is riddled with blue-green veins.
Like other certified regional cheeses, Cabrales blue cheese is protected by European law. Therefore, all of the milk used in the production of Cabrales must come exclusively from herds raised in the approved zone of the Picos de Europa mountains.
Produced in two varieties, cheeses by the name of Stilton can either be blue (due to Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum) or white. The blue-veined Stilton has its characteristic moldy smell and taste while the white is a very subtle cheese that sports no mold marbling because it is served after only four weeks of ripening. Stilton blue cheese is made in a similar fashion to all other regional blue cheeses, except stainless steel rods are used to poke air tunnels all the way to the core. What makes Stilton slightly more unique is the fact that is forms its own crust or rind naturally. The entirety of its manufacturing and ripening process takes some nine to twelve weeks.
While the original crafter of Stilton has never been pinpointed, there have been several possible creators mentioned throughout the 1700s for this prized English blue cheese. The most-likely candidate: a cheesemaker named Frances Pawlett of a Wymondham, Leicestershire dairy has traditionally been credited with establishing the modern Stilton cheese shape and style in the 1720s. Aside from him, a Richard Bradley—first Professor of Botany at Cambridge University—published a Stilton cheese recipe in 1726. Before that, however, in 1724, it was mentioned in a piece by Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe. Strangely enough, Stilton cheese is mentioned numerous times by several well-known authors, philosophers, and even theologians between the early 1700s and now, especially in the 1800s. Needless to say, it’s either an extremely-loved or extremely-unforgettable blue cheese.
By 1936, the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association (SCMA) was formed to lobby for regulation of the moldy cheese in order to protect its quality and the authenticity of its origin. Finally, in 1966, Stilton was granted legal protection via a certification trademark. In fact, according to my sources, it’s the only British cheese to have ever received this status.
Roquefort is a sheep milk moldy cheese from Southern France. It is one of the world’s best-known blue cheeses—and possibly the first.
Legend has it that a youth, eating his lunch of bread and ewes’ milk cheese curds, saw a beautiful girl in the distance. Abandoning his meal in the cave he was looking out from, he ran to introduce himself. When he returned a few months later, the mold (named Penicillium roqueforti thereafter) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort.
As intriguing as that sounds, there are countless versions and retellings throughout all of Europe—as each regional blue cheese vies for first dibs in the history books. Still, there is enough historical documentation to suggest that Roquefort might very well be the very first blue cheese consistently on the market. The fact that several other European dairy farmers openly admitted to attempting to recreate it with their own regional twist, Roquefort, France is most-likely the original birthplace of deliberately-infused moldy cheeses. The narrative is further encouraged among the people of France because the earliest mention of an infamously-distinctive cheese from the area was made by Pliny the Elder in 79AD. That and several other travelers’ accounts of a strong, unique cheese from the region made me personally come to the same conclusion, as well. (Feel free to correct me in the comments below if you believe I’m wrong in this assumption.)
What’s interesting about the crafting of Roquefort cheese is that cheesemakers relied heavily on the mold already available in soil of the caves that they stored their cheeses in. To help matters along, they would fill the caves not only with their cheese, but also with loaves of bread to help extract the mold from the soil. Now, however, the introduction of mold into the aging process can occur by adding it at the curdling point or inserted it through aerated holes like the process of all the other moldy cheeses mentioned.
As for its flavor and appearance, Roquefort is white, tangy, crumbly, and slightly moist. It has very distinctive veins of blue mold and a characteristic fragrance and flavor with a notable taste of butyric acid—because the blue marbling mold provides a sharp tang. Unlike other blue cheeses, it has no rind, which makes the salty exterior edible.
Though similar cheeses are produced elsewhere, EU law dictates that only those cheeses aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon may bear the name “Roquefort,” as it is a recognized geographical indication (or has a protected designation of origin). This certification was established for Roquefort cheese in 1961.
Can You Eat Moldy Cheese?
If you’re salivating a little right now at the descriptions and wanting to ask me, “Why can’t I have blue cheese again?” The answer is simple—unfair, but simple.
If you are suffering from a fungal infection—be it yeast or mold—the symptoms can and will flare up and worsen if you ingest moldy cheese. This is because you already have an internal imbalanced ratio of beneficial and harmful microbes, which is why the fungal infection took root to begin with. Problems such as diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, asthmatic episodes, hay fever, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, crawling skin sensations, anal itch, angular cheilitis (fissures in the corners of the mouth), cracking heels, eczema, acne, and other skin conditions can flare up or worsen.
The sad truth is that non-moldy cheeses can also increase the intensity of your already-existing fungal infection symptoms, but because I know how difficult it can be to give up cheese altogether, especially for long periods of time, this is why I wanted to point out the top five moldy cheeses so you could be sure to avoid the very worst.
If you really need to get a cheese fix, the safest option out there for you is cheese made strictly from goats. This is because cow- and soy-based cheeses are clinically shown to increase allergen responses within the body—many of these allergen sensitivities are rooted in the presence of gut flora imbalances, which is also the root cause of your fungal overgrowth issue. Therefore, it is safer to avoid anything made from either cow milk or soy because they are notorious for exacerbating fungal issues.
In conclusion, here is a brief list of goat cheese brands to try:
• Ardagh Castle Cheese
• Ardsallagh Goat Farm
• Blue Rathgore
• Bluebell Falls
• Bonne Bouche
• Bouq Émissaire
• Chèvre noir
• Clonmore Cheese
• Cooleeney Farmhouse Cheese
• Corleggy Cheese
• Gleann Gabhra
• Glyde Farm Produce
• Harbourne Blue
• Humboldt Fog
• Kunik cheese
• St Tola
Do you have any moldy cheese nightmare stories? What cheeses have you found that don’t seem to further exacerbate your mold or yeast condition? Have you tried any of the goat cheese brands in the list? Please feel free to share these thoughts and more in the comments below!
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