Roquefort and Chocolate, the science of Blue Cheese

This is not a new flavor combination in fact it has been around for a long time in France. Dark Chocolate and Blue Cheese was made famous by Chef Michel Bras in a dessert called Coulant. We are going to make Roquefort Bites which are Roquefort cheese rolled into balls and then rolled in chocolate pieces. But first some history.

The Legend

A long time ago, every story starts out this way and because this is a French cheese you know it has to include a little romance.  So we begin, at the base of the Combalou Mountain, a shepherd spotted a beautiful young woman. He ran after her, leaving behind his flock and his meal, which included ewe’s milk curds, in a cave with some bread. The young woman didn’t want to be caught and so she ran and hid from the shepherd having him chase her for days. He looked and looked for her but could not find her. He slowly made his way back to his flock. He found his meal which was now less than appealing with green veins running through the curd.  But the shepherd was starving from days of searching for the love of his life so he tasted the cheese…..and fell in love with the magic of the cheese and now you know the legend of Roquefort. He forgot the beautiful young woman and started making Cheese.  What I am a Cheese Monger you didn’t really expect him to get the girl did you?

Now for the science of the Roquefort

The unique look of blue cheese is a result of a specific type of mold added during the cheese making process and an additional step in the ageing process called “needling”. The molds added to blue cheese are derived from the genus Penicillium. The most widely used molds in blue-veined cheeses are Penicillium Roqueforti and Penicillium Glaucum. These fungi are found commonly in nature and were “discovered” by cheesemakers ageing their cheeses in damp, cool caves.

Penicillium Roqueforti is named after a French town called Roquefort with caves full of naturally occurring Penicillium mold spores. It is cheesemakers in the town of Roquefort who created, and still creates, the famous blue cheese called, of course, Roquefort. Original recipes for Roquefort cheese required that cheesemakers leave loaves of rye bread in the caves near the town. The loaves became hosts to the ambient mold in the air. After a month or so, the mold inside the loaves of bread was dried, ground and combined with cheese curd. (Remember, the bread simply acted as a host for the ambient mold spores in the cave; Penicillium Roqueforti is not the same type of mold that grows on any old loaf of bread one might leave out.) To further encourage the growth of mold that flavored the cheese, the wheels of cheese were aged inside the caves. Today, most cheesemakers use commercially manufactured Penicillium Roqueforti cultures that are freeze-dried.

After the mold cultures are introduced to blue cheese, the “needling” begins. Wheels of cheese are pierced (either by hand or by a device that can poke many tiny holes at once) to create tiny openings. Air enters the wheel of cheese, feeding the mold, and blue/green veins form.

The flavor of Blue cheese is often an acquired taste. Some people initially find the pungent, almost peppery, flavor of varieties such as Roquefort, Stilton, Gorgonzola, Danish Blue and similar cheeses to be overly strong. However, when one becomes used to the flavor, it is quite delicious. The flavor of Blue cheese is dominated by a class of compounds known as n-methyl ketones (alkan-2-ones). Spores of the blue mold, Penicillium roqueforti, germinate within mechanical openings (needling) in the cheese mass to form the blue veins characteristic of these varieties’. roqueforti produces two potent extracellular lipases which dominate lipolysis in these cheeses which have the highest levels of free fatty acids of all cheese families. However, liberation of fatty acids from triacylglycerols is only the start of the process of producing the Blue cheese flavor. P. roqueforti converts fatty acids to n-methyl ketones by a four-step pathway corresponding to the early stages of beta-oxidation. Heptan-2-one and nonan-2-one are the predominant n-methyl ketones in Blue cheese and contribute greatly to its pungent flavor.

So now that you are full of knowledge here are a few pictures to get you back to that nice romantic place you were in when I told you the legend first. We know that if you are brave and try this combination with a good red wine you will understand why the shepherd gave up on the beautiful woman.

blue cheese and chocolate 1

blue cheese and chocolate 3

blue cheese and chocolate

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Strata the Gourmet Cheese and French Bread Casserole!

strata 1

Strata – the “gourmet casserole” It’s got all the homey, comfort food qualities of its predecessors, and a name that brings to mind layer upon layer of savory, custardy bread, melted cheeses, salty meats and seasonal vegetables.

¾ cup shredded Maasdam cheese
¾ cup shredded Gruyere cheese
Cooking spray
1 loaf French bread (approximately 16 thin-sliced pieces)
4 ounces Serrano Ham
1 cup (about 4 ounces) roasted asparagus*, chopped into 1-inch pieces
6 eggs
1 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Mix the Swiss and Gruyere cheeses together in a small bowl and set aside. Liberally spray an 8” round casserole dish with cooking spray, and place half of the bread slices in the bottom of the dish. Layer half of the Serrano slices over the bread, followed by a layer of half of the roasted asparagus, and half of the cheese mixture. Repeat layering process, ending with a layer of cheese.

In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, remove the strata from the refrigerator, and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake strata for 50 to 60 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, and strata is slightly puffed and golden.

Serves 8.

∗ To roast 1 pound of asparagus: Preheat oven to 400°. Wash asparagus and break off bottoms of spears. Place asparagus on baking sheet, and drizzle with about 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Roast for about 10 minutes, until slightly browned and tender. If you like, pour about 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice over asparagus and garnish with some grated lemon rind.

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Easter the Italian Way!

If you’re not Italian, or an Italian-American who grew up celebrating Nonna’s Old World food traditions, you might be unfamiliar with this smooth, bright-white cheese that comes in white plastic containers. Delicate in texture (think tofu), it’s made with pasteurized cows’ milk and rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese by separating it into the solid curds and liquid whey. The stuff looks like a cross between fresh mozzarella and ricotta, but has a much milder taste than those semi-soft cousins — somewhat bland, if we’re going to be perfectly honest, with only the faintest flavor of curds.

Some eat basket cheese right out of the slotted container, on top of crackers or good crusty bread, perhaps with a little honey, jam or fruit to sweeten things up, or with a generous drizzle of good-quality olive oil, sprinkle of salt and grind of black pepper. You also can crumble the cheese onto tossed greens for a light lunch (it has just 70 calories in a 1-ounce serving) or pair thick slices with olive spread or tomatoes in a grilled-cheese sandwich. Others like to sprinkle it on top of pasta or marinate it for an antipasto.  You also can whip it with sugar and heavy cream into a velvety, pudding-like dessert.

Basket cheese’s most popular use, though is in a rich, seasonal specialty known as Italian Easter pie.

Every region in Italy has its version of the savory dish, which also is known as pizza rustica, pizza chena or pizzagaina. In the Campagna region of Southern Italy, for instance, where the Easter tradition originated as a way to clear smokehouses of winter sausages, the double-crusted pie is stuffed with spicy-hot sopresatta and prosciutto along with basket cheese, ricotta and parmesan; you’ll also find recipes that include hard-boiled eggs, salami, sausage, pepperoni or Parma ham — sometimes all of the above. Really, there is no “right” way to do an Easter pie, other than to go all out with your favorite cured or salted meats and cheeses — and not be cowed by all the calories. It helps celebrate one of Christianity’s most important holidays, after all, so why not indulge?

From this:

easter basket cheeseTo This:


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Montboissie Morbier


Montboissie is a Morbier style cheese that is made in the highest part of the Jura Mountains in a small farm village in the Franche-Comte region.  The cheese dates back to the 19th century when producers of Comte cheese decided to make a smaller cheese for their own consumption. They take the leftover curd from the day and sprinkle it with ash to prevent it from drying out overnight. The next morning new curds are added and the wheel is pressed and washed with brine for form a protective rind.  Because of the washed rind the cheese has a pungent aroma that is surprisingly mild. It has a supple silkiness that is sweet, rich and has a nutty aftertaste with hints of fruit and fresh hay that pairs well with fruity white wines, nuts and grapes. This cheese is made with the milk of the Montbeliarde cow which is typical of this area and is a great melting cheese and is used in recipes like Quiche Lorraine, Potato Gratin

Try melting it over potatoes and bacon for a special treat on this cold mornings.

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Parmigiano Reggiano La Traversetoles “White Gold”

La Traversetolese logo

Known as the “king of cheese” there are more than one kind of Parmigiano Reggiano.  For example there is Parmigiano Regiano Solo Di Bruna made with milk from the Brown Apline Swiss cows, or Parmigiano Regiano Vacche Rosse made from the milk of the Regiano cow. Italy has 33 PDO cheeses and the La Traversetolese has a history dating back to the mid-13th century.  To be a PDO cheese the cows must eat at least 75% of their feed from the region, along with several other regulations, one is the sound the cheese makes when you strike it.

This version of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is produced from the cream of raw milk skimmed from the evening milking and whole milk from the morning milking. The color of the crust is straw color with branding that identifies the month and year made and the dairy.  The paste is hard with a color ranging from a light cream (pale straw) to a darker yellow (straw).  The structure of the cheese is hard with “crunchies” which are amino acids that are formed by proteolysis (the breaking down of proteins).  The crunchy bits facilitate in the digestion of the cheese making this an excellent cheese for young children and the elderly, it is rich in bioavailable calcium, absent of lactose and low in cholesterol.

La Traversetolese also known as “White Gold” takes its name from the village where the dairy was founded. The Cooperative has 73 farmers supplying milk for the 20,000 wheels made each year. The milk comes from cows that graze in the mountains, where they eat a particular mountain grass and flax.  Its rich taste pairs well with white wines.

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Parmigiano Reggiano Vacche Rosse

red cow

As part of the slow food movement it gives me great pleasure to share with you this wonderful cheese and its history.  It’s about this lovely cow that was almost lost to us and how it has been reinvigorated.

Up until the post WWII era, the Reggiana was the main breed of cow in the province of Reggio Emilia. This beautiful cow had the most striking red coat. But sadly it did not produce as much milk as its black and white cousins.  By the last 1980’s there were only a few of these cows left. However, during the last few years Fanticini family has brought this breed of cow back from the brink of disaster. In their family dairy in Villa Sabbione they use the milk of the Reggiana to make Parmigiano Reggiano of yesteryear.  It has a higher butterfat content and contains more proteins. This combination allow for a longer period of aging. Its unique nutty, fruity, grassy flavor is richer than most Reggianos and its texture is creamier.

The Vacche Rosse (Red Cow) is made from 100% grass fed, unpasteurized cow’s milk. Most Parmigiano Reggiano’s are made from 80% grass fed cow’s milk. The farm only makes 2000 wheels per year so most Italian reserve this cheese for special dishes or eat it chunked and drizzled with thick expensive Balsamico.

This cheese carries several marks very proudly on its shell. This cheese is certified that no GMO was used in the feed, no methods to force the production were used and the animals were given a high level of attention.  This is cheese at its best!

vache Rossa Parm


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Limburger Cheesecake… only for the strong of heart or if you have a cold!

limburger cheesecake with onions

Limburger Cheese! OH the wonderful smell of this cheese.

Limburger is one of the cheeses that belongs to the “washed-rind” category. It is a real cheese, albeit not the most popular, at least in places where many Germans do not congregate.  This is the cheese that my great grandfather loved on rye bread with raw onions and mustard, but only after it sat on top of the “ice box” for a few weeks.

It’s taste is not as bad as it’s smell (thank god!). Once you trim away the rind, it has a slightly sweet, spicy flavor and is much milder than you’d expect.

Washed-rind cheeses tend to be some of the highest regarded cheeses, at least amongst cheesemongers and other industry professionals and fanatics. Their complexity and richness of flavor even in pasteurized form makes them a satisfying group of cheeses for the table, to be enjoyed simply as a snack, with no embellishments or further preparation necessary. I however, love to turn them into wonderful deserts.  So at the end of this article is a savory limburger cheesecake with a sweet onion, apple cayenne pepper chutney topping.

Limburger is a “washed-rind” and this is the key to understanding the character of this type of cheese, Limburger included.

During the cheese’s production and aging, the exterior (the rind) is washed, smeared, rinsed, or submerged in a liquid that alters its insides and outsides. (That’s why, in the cheese world, sometimes this category is known as “smear-ripened.”)

Depending on the recipe for the specific cheese, this liquid can be brine (sometimes salt water) with herbs, beer, wine, aquavit, etc. Its effect on the cheese is to decrease its acidity.

This step makes the rind a welcome place for the growth of Brevibacterium linens,or B. linens, a friendly, beneficial bacterium that causes the interior to soften during ripening (just like in the bloomy-rind cheeses), the rind to turn sticky and pinkish-orange, and the aroma to be illustrated by wavy green lines. This cheese smells bad.

If you relied on smell alone, you might never eat this cheese but then you’d be missing out. While flavor varies by individual cheese, some common taste experiences of washed-rind cheeses are: eggy, sweet, beefy, pungent, creamy, spicy, buttery, and mustardy.

It’s rare that a washed-rind cheese tastes as assertive as it smells, and if it does, it often means the cheese is past its peak and is no longer good.

For those with a highly sensitive palate, I recommend trimming the rind. It can not only taste overwhelming, but its texture is often gritty. Then again, some people love the rind, so do what you like.

NOW for those of you who are BRAVE of heart and love a challenge….

Limburger Cake

1 Envelope Gelatin
1/2 c Mini-white chocolate Chips
1/4 c Milk cold
1 Graham Cracker Pie Crust, 9 Inch
1 c Milk boiling
2  6-Oz Pkgs Limburger Cheese
1/2 c Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

In blender, sprinkle gelatin over cold milk; let stand 2 min. Add hot milk and process at low until dissolved, about 2 min. Add limburger cheese, sugar and vanilla and process until blended. Arrange chocolate in bottom of crust. Pour in gelatin mixture.

Chill until firm, about 2 hrs.

Onion, Apple, Cayenne Pepper Chutney

1 tablespoon light olive oil
4 apples, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 small onion, sliced
1 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced finely
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  1. In a saucepan over medium hight heat, sweat the onion in olive oil for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add in rest of ingredients and stir very well. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Ingredients might appear a little dry at first but as the apple cooks it will throw water and become “saucy.”
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and cook covered for 30 minutes, stirring often to help break up the apples.
  4. For best results, chill overnight and serve cool to room temperature and place on cheesecake just before you serve.


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