Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hello, New Blue!

Imagine my surprise when I got a call from Culture Magazine telling me that I'd been selected to be on a cheese tasting panel. My tastebuds were so proud!

As soon as the package arrived I opened the cheese package, took a test sniff, and wrapped it up again. For a blue cheese it seemed really mild.

I checked the clock and realized that if I was going to have a test-taste before dinner, it was perfect timing - the cheese was supposed to sit at room temperature for an hour.

So it sat. I stared at it. But I didn't touch it.

And now it's time for my confession. Although I love pretty much all cheeses, and I've been a fan since I was a little mouse, blue cheeses are relatively new on my cheese platter.

My earliest introduction to blues was when I was a kid and restaurants served blue cheese dressing. I was so traumatized by those bad bottled blue cheese dressings way back then that it took me many years to come around to the world of Real Blue. Granted, those dressings probably came from a bottle and didn't have any real blue cheese in them. But that was the only blue I knew for quite a long time.

So while I eagerly explored the world of hard and soft and goat and sheep and every other variation, I avoided the blue cheeses. There were so many others, so I didn't feel like I was missing anything.

Then, some years ago, I decided to throw aside my prejudices and sample some of the things that I said I didn't like, but that I hadn't actually eaten in years. The result? I still dislike coconut, but blue cheese is back on the menu.

tick ... tick ... tick ... DING!

When the time was up, I sampled the cheese. One more sniff. Even after an hour out of the fridge, it still smelled mild. Aged, yes. But not very blue. It reminded me a little of a young Parmigiano.

The center of the cheese was very creamy. A little bit buttery and a little more nutty. Very smooth. The flavor reminded me a little of Manchego, but much creamier. There was just a little hint of the typical blue flavor. As I moved closer to the rind, the texture changed. It was still creamy, but a little bit firmer. And the flavor got stronger.

The last bite had a slight aroma of ammonia - not in a bad way - and it wasn't really a scent, since it wasn't evident when I sniffed the cheese. But there was a sharpness in the back of my throat and up my nose when I ate that last little bit.

I've got to say that this would be a perfect "beginner" blue for someone who is a little bit afraid of sharper or more pungent cheeses. That beginner could start at the center and nibble towards the rind. And then save the outside for people who like a stronger blue cheese flavor.

Then again, it's not JUST a beginner cheese, because it would pair so well with foods where you wouldn't want that strong flavor. In cooking, I could imagine it with chicken. Maybe stuffed inside a breast or as a creamy sauce with a side of pasta. Or smeared on crostata and topped with ... tomato, maybe? Fire roasted red peppers?

On its own, I might pair it with pears, some candied walnuts, and maybe a bubbly wine. Then again, we nibbled our way through it over the course of several days, all by itself. So if it went on sale, that's probably what would happen to it.

So, a name? At first I thought that something like Blue Light might work, referencing the fact that it's a fairly mild blue. Or maybe Blue Lights. But as I was writing this, I had a better idea - Denim Blue. For the color of the blue veins, the variation from center to rind - like old jeans that are more aged in some places than in others, and for the fact that it's a comfortable cheese that could be paired with a wide range of foods.

Like a nice pair of jeans, you could dress it up or dress it down.

Disclaimer: Point Reyes sent this cheese to me free of charge with the understanding that I'd post about it on Culture Magazine's blog. I wasn't obligated to post it here, but I thought it was interesting enough to warrant a post.