For all of my talk — and sometimes preaching — about blue cheese, there's one specific kind that I tend not to mention. I never buy or recommend this particular cheese, and I've thought for years that fact supported my bias against it.
Needless to say, it never ceases to amaze me just how frequently a cheese epiphany crosses my path.
The other day, a coworker bought a wedge of gorgonzola for a recipe she was testing. I scoffed and offered up a number of other cheeses that would surely be better, but she went forward with her original choice.
The idea was simple: a crisp butter lettuce salad with hazelnuts, avocado, and an in-your-face lemony creme fraiche dressing. She dropped creamy and dense morsels of gorgonzola throughout.
You know where this is going.
I make a quick convert — and subsequent proselytizer — when I taste something that changes my mind. And this blue was no different. It was like a smack in the face, and all I could think about was why for years I have disliked this (poor) cheese.
So I decided to do some gorgonzola soul searching. Other than a pretty resonating memory of this pizzeria in Italy I used to frequent that I felt was generous to a fault with the quantity of gorgonzola on their pies, I really had no reason not to like it. I'm sometimes disturbed at my close-mindedness.
Gorgonzola is, after all, a highly crafted, name-protected cheese. It's Lombardy's most famous cheese by far, and typically comes in two versions: naturale, often sold as "mountain" in the States, or dolce, often called "cremificato." The mountain gorgonzola is what now currently holds a special place in my heart. It's stronger than the cremificato, since it's aged for up to three months longer. It's also more firm, with deeper blue veins in its paste. The cremificato is great melted into polenta or for a rich blue cheese sauce for gnocchi.
I often talk about how blue cheeses can be surprisingly, reassuringly sweet. But for all the times that sweetness is great and special in a blue cheese, there are the times when it's not called for, when something straightforwardly spicy is what you want. What made me stop and (re)think about gorgonzola was how balanced its spiciness is. It's not stinging like an overripe roquefort, and it's not even that salty, really. The mouthfeel is velvety smooth, speckled with just a bit of granularity from the bluing.
On a cheese plate, it's excellent, and made a deeply satisfying dinner atop some rustic bread toasted in olive oil. Surprisingly, it somehow tempered the vicious — that is, cheap — red wine I was drinking. Blue cheese plus red wine has always been a standby example of what a bad pairing tastes like. Doubly wrong, am I! As with any blue, sweet accompaniments are recommended, like honeys, fruit and nut bread, fig jam, and dates.
Regardless of how you eat gorgonzola — in a salad, on a pizza, or for your dinner — you won't have trouble finding it. But as I preach nearly weekly, buy it from the best place you know to ensure the highest quality and condition, especially if you're trying to change your opinion of it for the better.
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.
(Images: iGourmet; Nora Singley)