Blue cheeses have become beloved ingredients in culinary traditions around the world.
Their characteristic blue veins, funky aromas, and rich flavors make them popular choices for enhancing everything from salads to desserts.
Two of the most well-known varieties are blue cheese and gorgonzola.
Key Takeaway: While blue cheese and gorgonzola share some similarities, they have distinct differences in terms of taste, texture, production methods, and origins that make each variety unique.
A Closer Look at Blue Cheese
Blue cheese refers to a broad category of cheeses that are inoculated with cultures of the mold Penicillium during production. This mold imparts blue, gray, or green veining throughout the cheese and contributes to its pungent aroma and bold flavor. Blue cheeses can be made from cow's, goat's, or sheep's milk.
Traditionally, blue cheeses like Roquefort originated as happy accidents when natural mold growth occurred in the caves used for cheese aging. Today, cheesemakers inoculate the curds with mold spores to deliberately cultivate the fungi.
During aging, metal rods are inserted into the cheese wheels to create air pockets that allow oxygen to feed the mold growth. The result is the characteristic marbling that makes these cheeses so visually distinctive. The length of the aging process, typically 2 months or longer, determines the intensity of the veining and flavor. The older the cheese, the more pronounced the mold presence becomes.
In terms of texture, blue cheeses can range from soft and creamy to semi-firm and crumbly. The creaminess comes from the high fat content of the milk used. Varieties like Blue Stilton are buttery and spreadable, while others like Roquefort have a crumbly granularity.
The diverse production methods of different blue cheeses around the world contribute to their complexity. For example:
- Roquefort is made from raw sheep's milk and aged in the natural Combalou caves of France, which give it a moist, creamy texture and robust flavor.
- Stilton from England uses pasteurized cow's milk for a drier, crumblier texture and mild taste.
- Danablu from Denmark contains red wax veins for a woodsy flavor and smooth, medium-soft texture.
No matter the particular variety, blue cheeses deliver a salty, sharp taste and pungent aromatic quality that makes them perfect for bold flavor pairings. Their high sodium content enhances flavor while the aging gives them a funky, fermented quality.
Key Takeaway: Blue cheese is a broad category that can be made from various types of milk. aging time and production methods lead to diverse textures and intensities of flavor.
Gorgonzola - A Classic Italian Blue
Gorgonzola has been made for centuries in the town of the same name near Milan, Italy. It stands apart from other blues thanks to its exclusive use of cow's milk and distinct aging conditions that give it trademark characteristics:
- A pale yellow interior with blue-green marbling
- A dense, creamy texture - soft when young, firm when aged
- A mild, sweet, and nutty flavor with a tangy bite
Gorgonzola begins similarly to other cheeses - milk is curdled, molded, drained, and salted. Then, metal rods are periodically inserted and removed during aging to create air channels. This allows mold spores to develop into the veins that make gorgonzola visually distinctive.
The aging time is relatively short compared to other blues - typically around 3 to 4 months. This prevents it from becoming too pungent. Shorter aging produces a milder Gorgonzola Dolce, while longer aging gives a sharper Gorgonzola Piccante.
The use of cow's milk and controlled aging conditions give Gorgonzola its trademark flavor and texture. These include:
- A smooth, dense paste with a creamy mouthfeel
- Delicate sweet and nutty notes balanced by a tangy bite
- Hints of butter, mushroom, and grassy earthiness
Gorgonzola's mild profile makes it more approachable and versatile than punchier blue cheeses. Its subtle flavor pairs well with fruits, nuts, salad greens, and pasta dishes without overpowering them.
The delimited region of production in Northern Italy also gives Gorgonzola a valued status. Like Champagne in France, the name "Gorgonzola" is protected to ensure quality and tradition. This means that only cheeses aged in those designated areas can bear the name.
Key Takeaway: Gorgonzola uses cow's milk and a short, controlled aging to achieve a signature green veining, creamy texture, and mild nutty flavor.
Contrasting Flavors, Textures, and Uses
When examined side-by-side, some distinctive differences between gorgonzola and blue cheese become apparent:
- Blue cheese has a sharper, more pungent flavor and saltier taste.
- Gorgonzola is milder and more subtle in flavor with nutty notes.
- Blue cheese ranges from crumbly to semi-soft.
- Gorgonzola has a dense, creamy consistency, especially when young.
- Blue cheese can be made from cow's, sheep's or goat's milk.
- Gorgonzola exclusively uses cow's milk.
- Blue cheese is aged for a minimum 2 months up to 6 months or longer.
- Gorgonzola ages for a shorter 3-4 month period for a milder flavor.
Region of Origin
- Blue cheese has various origins including England, France, Denmark and others.
- Gorgonzola comes from specific regions of Northern Italy and hasProtected Designation of Origin status.
These differences mean that blue cheese and gorgonzola are not exactly interchangeable. While They can often substitute for one another, each imparts its own nuanced flavor and texture.
In cooking applications:
- Gorgonzola works better in more delicate dishes where its mild flavor won't dominate. Examples are risottos, salad dressings, and as a pizza topping.
- The sharper tang of blue cheese stands up to bolder ingredients. It can be crumbled on salads, baked into a lasagna, or served alongside cured meats.
On a cheese platter:
- Gorgonzola's creaminess makes it wonderful for spreading on crackers or bread.
- Crumblier blue cheeses are best for crumbling over nuts or apples for a flavor and textural contrast.
- Younger gorgonzola becomes silky and smooth when melted.
- Blue cheese can become slightly grainy and oily if overheated. Gentle warming is best to preserve its texture.
Key Takeaway: From their flavor profiles to textures and cooking applications, gorgonzola and blue cheese each offer their own unique qualities.
Histories and Cultural Significance
In addition to their culinary distinctions, blue cheese and gorgonzola hold special places in regional food cultures and histories.
The Long History of Gorgonzola
Gorgonzola has been made for centuries, dating back as far as 879 AD. According to legend, its signature blue veining resulted when a young cheesemaker abandoned curds in a cave to run off and meet his lover. When he returned months later, mold had developed, creating an early "blue cheese."
Historical records indicate Gorgonzola was long produced only in the town of the same name near Milan. However, other towns in the region dispute this claim, arguing they also have a long lineage of gorgonzola production.
Regardless of its precise origin, Gorgonzola enjoys PDO protection today that reserves the name only for cheese from specific provinces. This regulation ensures the quality and tradition of true, aged-in-Italy Gorgonzola.
Over the centuries, Gorgonzola became integrated into Italian cuisine in dishes like Gnocchi al Gorgonzola and Risotto alla Gorgonzola. It's also enjoyed alongside cured meats and crackers as an antipasto.
Blue Cheese Across Borders
In contrast to Gorgonzola's regionality, blue cheese varieties developed independently around Europe. Many origin stories romanticize how the cheeses were discovered by accident when bread or curds were forgotten in caves.
For instance, Roquefort from France has been produced since at least the 15th century. Stilton emerged in England around the 18th century. Danablu comes from Denmark, developing in the 19th century and popularized by exporter Danisco.
Blue cheeses also eventually spread to the Americas. Perhaps the most famous is Maytag Blue invented by the Iowa-based appliance company in the 1940s.
Each of these traditional blue cheeses became entwined with local food cultures. Roquefort pairs beautifully with wines of southern France. Stilton is a popular British pub food topped on burgers or served with pears. Danablu often graces Danish smørrebrød open-faced sandwiches.
Despite their geographic diversity, a common thread runs through blue cheeses' cultural heritage - a celebration of the unique flavors wine, beer, bread, and meat.
Key Takeaway: Gorgonzola and blue cheeses carry cultural significance in Italian, French, British, and other regional food traditions.
Nutrition and Health Effects
When enjoying pungent cheeses, it's important to consider their nutritional value and potential health impacts.
Fat and Sodium Content
- Like many cheeses, both gorgonzola and blue cheese are high in fat and sodium.
- A 1 oz. serving of gorgonzola contains about 9g of fat and 390mg sodium (17% and 14% daily value respectively).
- Blue cheese has around 8g fat and 350mg sodium per oz.
- The high saturated fat means they are rich and creamy but should be eaten in moderation.
- Research indicates compounds in blue cheese may provide cardiovascular benefits by inhibiting LDL cholesterol oxidation.
- The mold used, Penicillium roqueforti, shares a lineage with penicillin, suggesting potential for antimicrobial effects. However, more study is needed.
- As fermented foods, blue cheeses may aid digestion and gut health. The probiotics may positively influence gut flora.
- Like many cheeses, they provide a good source of bioavailable calcium and protein to support bone and muscle health.
- The high sodium levels mean blue cheese and gorgonzola may be risky for those monitoring salt intake due to hypertension.
- Mold allergies may cause reactions in some individuals, especially asthma sufferers. Consult a doctor before consuming.
- Pregnant women are often advised to avoid soft blue cheeses due to risk of listeria, a dangerous infection. Always check with a physician.
Incorporating blue cheeses into an overall healthy diet full of veggies and whole foods can allow you to enjoy their unique flavors while mitigating drawbacks. Talk to your doctor about any specific health conditions that may require care when consuming aged cheeses.
Key Takeaway: While providing some nutritional benefits, blue cheeses' high sodium and concerns about allergies require care when adding them to your diet.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the difference between gorgonzola and blue cheese?
While gorgonzola is a type of blue cheese, it differs from traditional blue cheeses in its milder flavor, dense creamy texture, short 3-4 month aging time, exclusive use of cow's milk, and origin in Northern Italy. Most blue cheeses are sharper tasting, crumblier, aged longer, and can be made from sheep or goat milk.
Is it safe to eat the blue mold veins?
Yes, the strains of Penicillium mold used to make blue cheeses are safe to eat. They are specially cultivated for cheesemaking and do not produce hazardous mycotoxins. The mold imparts the signature flavors, aromas, and appearance.
Can you substitute gorgonzola for blue cheese?
In most cases, yes. Keep in mind that gorgonzola is milder so may not impart as sharp of a flavor. Depending on the recipe, you may want to use a bolder gorgonzola variety to compensate.
What are some classic blue cheese pairings?
Blue cheese pairs wonderfully with pears, apples, figs, and nuts like walnuts and almonds. Drizzles of honey balance out blue cheese's saltiness. Full-bodied red wines or dark beers also complement the bold flavors.
What dishes traditionally use gorgonzola?
Gorgonzola is famously used in pasta sauces, risottos, and pizzas. Italian dishes like gnocchi al gorgonzola highlight its mild nuttiness. It also accents salads or veggie dishes without overwhelming them.
Key Takeaway: Gorgonzola offers a milder take on blue cheese's trademark flavor for celebrations of food culture worldwide.
While all blue-veined cheeses share the familiar funky aromas, penetrating flavors, and marbled appearance, clear distinctions exist between traditional blue cheeses and gorgonzola. Gorgonzola's smooth, creamy paste, mild nuttiness, and greenish-blue veining contrast with the wider diversity across other blue cheeses. An appreciation for their nuances allows cheese lovers to discern when to use their unique traits for enhancing everything from cheese boards to cooked dishes.
The next time you come across blue cheese and gorgonzola at the market, consider taking home both for a side-by-side tasting. The experience will provide delightful insight into how traditions and techniques influence cheesemaking worldwide. From the caves of France to the affinage cellars of Italy, cheesemakers have mastered the art of mold’s magnification into some of the culinary world’s most iconic varieties.