After last week's post on cheeses that make you cringe, it was clear from some comments that one style of cheese has particular ability to inspire the heeby jeebies: blue cheese.
And so, I thought a recommendation was necessary for a starter blue of sorts, one that's very available and pretty reliable, if you can find it from a good producer. If you're willing to take on the challenge to leave your old taste buds in the dust, the rewards have huge potential.
Becoming a blue-lover opens many doors to many happy taste experiences. Fourme D'Ambert is one of the most mild-manered of blues. It'll only bite you back if it's towards the mature end of its lifetime. When young, the blue shines through not as a ray that stings, but as a ray that sings. Not terribly complex, and while it's clear that there's a good amount of blueing to the paste, the veins actually lend a velvety texture by breaking up the creaminess. It's not a cloying, stick-to-your-gums blue (although there's nothing wrong with that, either).
Fourme D'Ambert is one of the oldest cheeses in France, and received its AOC name protection in 2002. Its production ranges from small fermier, or farmstead, to industrial. In France you can find it made with raw milk but most versions in the States are pasteurized. The flavor is eggy, rich, and slightly nutty, with distinct notes of heavy cream. It almost tastes of reduced cream: thick, buttery, and full of milky butterfat. Unlike Roquefort, it won't linger with peppery reverberation.
Blues take well to sweet things like dried fruit, honeys, and candied nuts. If you're taking the experimental plunge, don't go without a bathing buddy. Best bets are dried cherries, fruit and nut breads, chocolate, sweet wines, or sweet fortified wines like port and sherry. A dark, chocolatey stout is also pretty spectacular. Alternatively, you could go more savory with your sides, with dark, wholesome pumpernickel bread, dried cured meats, and olives. But don't go it alone if you're giving blue another chance. Perhaps you just find the style too strong on its own. Hey, even some people become more palatable with some stout and chocolate in tow.
When especially young and mild, Fourme D'Ambert reads almost as a cream cheese if you're not paying close attention. It's funny how the eyes can play with our perception of food. This is true especially in the case of blue cheese, which is easily judged-- or misjudged, as the case may be-- solely by its color. (Whoa now, cheese musing can get pretty deep.)
This phenomenon is similar to how red wines often read as white in a blind tasting. Professional wine evaluation often occurs in black wine glasses so that the taster can focus on the wine itself rather than on the wine's merit as white or red. How much are you unknowingly turned off by blue cheese because of its color and what you think it will taste like? Consider that.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Nora Singley)