Ask the Cheese Lady

Blue mold gone bad… how to tell?

We received a great question on the “Ask the Cheese Lady” message board. Anytime you have questions, post them and I’ll get back to you!

Question:

Hi Jill
How do you tell or is there an easy way to tell when “veined” cheeses like Picos Blue, stilton, Roquefort and American blue cheeses go bad? I love these type cheeses but the flavor intensity usually means I eat a couple of times and then want to “pause” a bit but by the time I get back to them..well I am not sure if they are still edible, hence in the trash!
thanks in advance

Answer:

Hi there!

You have hit upon one of the great cheese questions! Since blue cheese is already intentionally moldy, it can be hard to tell when good mold goes bad. The best method is to watch the paste (the actual cheese part) of the cheese instead of the mold. It should be consistently colored throughout (some cheeses have a brighter white paste, some have more of a tan color, some are almost grayish). But the key is that is should be uniform. If most of the paste is white and the edges are turning brown, that’s a sign your cheese has passed. Likewise, if it begins to dry out, become rubbery, or develop cracks, let it go.

It can be hard to get through a big wedge of blue because of the intensity that you mentioned. I recommend taking home only what you can eat within a week, then come back and get more. That way, you’re not storing it too long. And speaking of storing, keep it unwrapped in a lidded Tupperware container (not plastic wrap). That will preserve it nicely.

Enjoy your cheese!

Jill

What makes a great cheese?

At Cheesetique we have hundreds of cheeses, each chosen for a specific reason, from flavor to color to story. With so many cheeses, how do we answer the question, “What makes a great cheese?”

I decided to go right to the experts: the amazingly talented folks of Cheesetique. I asked each one the simple question, “What makes a great cheese?” And here is what they said…

  • Thomas (Store Director): “Depth of flavor. It has an initial flavor that develops into something else.”
  • Charisse (Bartender): “Flavorful, not too funky.”
  • Ellie (Cheesemonger): “The perfect balance of sweet and salty.”
  • Ross (Server): “Flexible. Both physically and within the cuisine.” (I’m not quite sure what he means by “physically flexible” – does it need to be able to do a back bend?)
  • Angel (Manager): “Starts from the ground up and is taken care of every step of the way from the dairy to the creamery to the customer and gives you a sense of place.” (Angel wins for the most beautiful answer delivered so smoothly you would think he’d practiced it.)
  • Moe (Kitchen Supervisor): “To me, the texture. A lot of cheeses I don’t like just because the texture is wrong.”
  • Jeff (my husband): If it’s called “Mt. Tam,” “Beemster Gouda,” or “Shropshire Blue,” it’s a great cheese. (For the record, he had the most trouble answering this question. It was like pulling teeth. Perhaps Angel could tutor him.)

So that settles it. A “great cheese” has depth of flavor, lack of funkiness, balance, flexibility, a sense of place, pleasant texture, and it may or may not be named “Mt. Tam.” There you go!

What the Heck is a Quince?

Still life of a Quince, before and after.

Still life of a Quince, before and after.

Our good friend the Quince might be a stranger to most of you. Usually, the only time we see one is after it’s been cooked to death, mixed with a ton of sugar, and allowed to solidify into a firm, slice-able paste. Creatively enough, this paste is called “Quince Paste”, or in much-prettier Spanish, “Membrillo” (mem-BREE-oh), and is one of the uber-traditional accompaniments for cheese.

The Quince is almost never seen in public in its original form (much like Cher), so imagine my delight when I visited the Grand Mart and saw a huge pile ‘o Quince (Quinces?) just waiting to be snatched up. I literally jumped up and down, clapping.

Once we got home, my daughter was eager to taste it (after all, Mommy leaped for joy). First, she could hardly get her teeth into it. Then, she looked at me, all puckery, like, “Mom,  I hate to disappoint you, but…” So of course I had to try it for myself. Although our Quince looked and felt much like a large yellow apple, biting into it revealed an unyielding, chewy interior and a muted yet sour flavor. Frankly, it tasted kind of icky.

So, how do I sum up the experience? It would be sort of like meeting Richard Simmons and finding out that he’s really rude. Kind of a let-down. So, dear Quince, I enjoyed our little rendezvous, but next time we meet, you’ll be in paste form.

~ Like what you’re reading? There’s more where that came from! Like us on Facebook and see new posts hot off the presses. ~

Is that a salami in your pocket? A cheese & meat love story.

Hunka-hunka-yummy salami from Creminelli Fine Meats.

Hunka-hunka-yummy salami from Creminelli Fine Meats.

Cheese and salami are two of my favorite foods, not only because they are both fatty and delicious, but because even though one is made from milk and the other meat, their origins, preparation, components, and variety are amazingly similar.

1. Origins: Cheese and salami were born out of a need to preserve highly perishable ingredients so people didn’t starve to death in the winter. Let me repeat: SO PEOPLE DIDN’T STARVE TO DEATH IN THE WINTER. How hard-core is that?

2. Preparation: Both are prepared by manipulating raw ingredients, adding salt, and storing in precise conditions for long periods of time. Both become more interesting as they age, developing complex flavors and supple textures. The true miracle of aging, though, is that the product is preserved (and improved) over weeks or months without rotting. (Because rotten food = starve to death in the winter, kapish?)

3. Components: Cheese and salami both rely on their skins to survive. Cheese skin is called a “rind” and salami skin is called a “casing”. The rind/casing protects the cheese/salami from drying out or getting unwanted stuff in it. Salami casing is often a section of animal intestine, but can also be synthetic. Happily for all of you vegetarians out there, the rind of a cheese is never an intestine (it’s usually just more cheese). Rinds and casings are almost always edible, but some choose to remove them before eating (whimps).

4. Variety: The multiple steps involved in preparing and aging cheese and salami can vary in myriad ways, resulting in thousands of different salamis from all over the world mainly from the same basic ingredients. Most are pork, but you will also find duck salami, venison salami, and even wild boar salami (tusks not included).

Cool Salami Fact #1: Along with Prosciutto and other hams, salami is a member of the “cured meat” family. Just like your relatives, the cured meat family is full of different personalities. Unlike your relatives, however, cured meats are always fun to be around… and they never ask to borrow money.

Cool Salami Fact #2: As you can see in our sexy centerfold photo, salami comes in all shapes and sizes. It is best served sliced (thick or thin) and you can dab on a bit of mustard if you like.

Cool Salami Fact #3: The fine white powder on the outside of salami’s casing is mold. Yes, mold. Get over it.

So, now that the lesson is over, go forth and indulge in two of the most miraculous foods on earth. I personally guarantee that you won’t starve to death in the winter.

~ Like what you’re reading? There’s more where that came from! Like us on Facebook and see new posts hot off the presses. ~

Is that cheese… or a traffic cone?

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

A lovely yellow Mustard Seed Gouda from Holland.

Milk is white, not orange. Ever wondered how orange cheese was born?

Historically, cheese with more butterfat could be sold for a higher price at market. Higher butterfat naturally gives cheese a deeper, more creamy/yellowy color, so shoppers could look for more color when they wanted the best, most nutritious cheese. When ancient cheese makers wanted to cheat, they would skim the cream off of their milk and turn that into butter to make additional income. Then, left with only skim milk with which to make their cheese, they invented a way to give their “skinny” cheese the “heavyweight” color. Adding artificial colors from flower petals and other sources tricked consumers into paying more.

How and when this slight influence of color turned into the neon orange cheeses we see today, I have no idea. It must have been like someone who uses too much spray tanner… they just don’t know when to stop (and they think they look great).

Interestingly, orange cheeses have become staples of certain cultures. For instance, East Coast Americans want their Cheddar white and Midwestern Americans want their Cheddar orange. In fact, some cheese makers will produce the same cheese in both orange and white for different regions. Today, cheeses can be colored naturally (using annatto seed) or artificially (using synthetic dyes).

Welcome to Ask the Cheese Lady

Is there something you’ve always wanted to know about cheese? Post it as a comment here! Cheese Lady Jill Erber will get you an answer in no-time.