Highlighting Flavorful American Blue Cheese

It pays to become familiar with domestic varieties that provide added sales opportunities for delis

piece of blue cheese isolated on a white background
Hannah Howard

Unfortunately, Blue cheeses can make shoppers squeamish. “Blue cheese is a cheese that some people are afraid to try,” notes Engwall. “I think by showcasing the varied flavor profile of these cheeses and the numerous applications, retailers can help educate consumers.” She suggests beginning by introducing new consumers to milder flavored Blue cheeses and highlighting the variety of ways it can be served — from a cheese plate to salad topping, or balancing the flavor as an ingredient in a main course.

The many possibilities for merchandising Blue cheese echo the myriad ways it can be served and enjoyed. For the purists — drizzle with honey or place atop a cracker or slice of baguette. The sweetness of honey provides a welcome contrast to the piquant salinity of Blue cheese. Blue cheese also shines on a cheese plate with walnuts, dried fruit and honeycomb. For an unexpected but crowd-pleasing pairing, serve it with dark chocolate.

Blue cheese also shines in a wide array of recipes. From dips to salads, Blue cheese is a way to add just a bit of funk and personality to dishes. It can temper the heat in a spicy dish, balance bitter greens in a salad and amplify the natural sweetness of fruit. It works well in a salad with arugula and ripe peaches or plums — the sweet fruit is a great complement to the salty cheese. A buttermilk Blue cheese dip kicks up a plate of crudité or wings. A crumble of Blue adds depth to roast sweet potatoes, and Blue cheese makes a dish of mac and cheese feel just a little bit grown-up. It makes a welcome addition to a steak or burge and is even better with caramelized onions.

“Cheese can sometimes be overwhelming simply because there are many varieties to choose from,” explains Engwall.

Educating the consumer on how the cheese can be used — either with information on the product packaging or through in-store demos, signage and cross-merchandising with crackers, nuts, jams and beverages — is a great way to help initiate trial and lead to purchase.


As for beverages, aromatic Viognier or Riesling are a great match for a milder Blue. When it comes to bolder, funkier cheeses, Sauternes and Port are classic pairings — and make for an elegant dessert. Dark beers like porter or stout also stand up to big Blue cheeses. The piercing acidity of Ice Wine and the fig notes of Pedro Ximénez Sherry are excellent foils for the spiciness that can be found in Blue cheese.

Blue cheese has quite a long shelf life — it is mold, after all. Soft-ripened varieties are often good for a month or two once they arrive at a store, whereas firmer cheese wheels usually last for about sixWhen it comes to products, there are few as polarizing as Blue cheese. Whether you crave them or crinkle up your nose at the very thought, Blue cheeses have a rich, ancient history. Legend goes that a busy shepherd neglected his lunch of bread and cheese one day in a cave sometime in the 7th century. A few months later, he returned to find his cheese had become a vibrant shade of blue-green. It had been inoculated with penicillium roqueforti, a mold that was naturally growing in the cave, and that today is injected into wheels like Roquefort (with intention and precise control).

Salty, funky, satisfying Blue cheese gets its color from one of two species of mold: Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum. Either way, the mold thrives on the proteins in milk in miniscule cracks and holes in an environment with almost no oxygen. Often, cheesemakers pierce their young wheels to allow pathways for the mold to grow — a process called needling. Blue cheeses are often made with a higher salt recipe than non-Blue wheels, as the salt slows down the Blue molds from taking over the cheese too fast, allowing the wheels to develop complexity without becoming overly blue.

Blue cheeses can span a wide range of flavors and textures, from spicy and fudgy to sweet and crumbly. They can be made with milk from goats, cows, sheep or even buffalo. Their “blue” may vary in hue from grey to green to a deep purplish. Some Blues hit you over the head (and nose) with their intensity, while others are more subtle. In other words, it’s a big, wide world of Blue cheese.

From the Old World 

The most classic styles of Blue cheese are Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Stilton, which come from France, Italy and England respectively. All three remain highly sought after. But more and more quality cheese is being produced in the United States every year, and Blue cheese is no exception. The Old World may have written the great Cheese Canon, but American cheesemakers are dreaming up and crafting cheeses delicious enough to rival any dairy across the Atlantic.


Roth Cheese in Wisconsin is known for making a variety of Blue cheeses, including Buttermilk Blue, a flagship Blue that’s cellar-aged for two months for a slightly tangy, exceptionally creamy Blue cheese. “We also make a six-month aged Blue and a smoked Blue in small batches, which are earthy and tangy and perfect for topping steaks and salads,” says Heather Engwall, vice president of marketing for Emmi Roth, based in Fitchburg, WI. “Earlier this year, we also acquired a Blue cheese plant in Seymour, WI, which has allowed us to expand our Blue cheese production.”

Buttermilk Blue is one of the many acclaimed American Blues. Maytag Blue is one of the originals, crafted since 1941 by Maytag Dairy Farms in Newton, IA. The cheese is made from cow’s milk sourced from the farm’s own herd. The wheels’ creamy paste is intersected with bright sapphire bluing and its flavor is acidic, sharp and balanced.

Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. in Point Reyes Station, CA, makes a variety of Blue cheeses on their farm 40 miles north of San Francisco, perched on Tomales Bay, which opens onto the Pacific Ocean. Its dense, creamy Original Blue has become an American classic. It starts out sweet and finishes savory. Their Bay Blue takes its inspiration from Stilton, with a natural rind and fudgy texture. It has a rich earthiness and just a hint of caramel.

In Central Point, OR, Rogue Creamery crafts their Rogue River Blue only in autumn, when the cow’s rich milk is ideal for making this cheese. The wheels are wrapped in pear-brandy-soaked grape leaves, and the texture becomes slightly crystallized as the cheese ages. They also make a Smokey Blue Cheese, which gets its smoky, nutty and savory flavor from a long cold smoking over shells from local Oregon hazelnuts.

There are plenty more high-quality American Blues to discover, and it’s best to sample as many as possible.

Don’t Be Afraid of Blue

Unfortunately, Blue cheeses can make shoppers squeamish. “Blue cheese is a cheese that some people are afraid to try,” notes Engwall. “I think by showcasing the varied flavor profile of these cheeses and the numerous applications, retailers can help educate consumers.” She suggests beginning by introducing new consumers to milder flavored Blue cheeses and highlighting the variety of ways it can be served — from a cheese plate to salad topping, or balancing the flavor as an ingredient in a main course.

The many possibilities for merchandising Blue cheese echo the myriad ways it can be served and enjoyed. For the purists — drizzle with honey or place atop a cracker or slice of baguette. The sweetness of honey provides a welcome contrast to the piquant salinity of Blue cheese. Blue cheese also shines on a cheese plate with walnuts, dried fruit and honeycomb. For an unexpected but crowd-pleasing pairing, serve it with dark chocolate.

Blue cheese also shines in a wide array of recipes. From dips to salads, Blue cheese is a way to add just a bit of funk and personality to dishes. It can temper the heat in a spicy dish, balance bitter greens in a salad and amplify the natural sweetness of fruit. It works well in a salad with arugula and ripe peaches or plums — the sweet fruit is a great complement to the salty cheese. A buttermilk Blue cheese dip kicks up a plate of crudité or wings. A crumble of Blue adds depth to roast sweet potatoes, and Blue cheese makes a dish of mac and cheese feel just a little bit grown-up. It makes a welcome addition to a steak or burge and is even better with caramelized onions.

“Cheese can sometimes be overwhelming simply because there are many varieties to choose from,” explains Engwall.

Educating the consumer on how the cheese can be used — either with information on the product packaging or through in-store demos, signage and cross-merchandising with crackers, nuts, jams and beverages — is a great way to help initiate trial and lead to purchase.

As for beverages, aromatic Viognier or Riesling are a great match for a milder Blue. When it comes to bolder, funkier cheeses, Sauternes and Port are classic pairings — and make for an elegant dessert. Dark beers like porter or stout also stand up to big Blue cheeses. The piercing acidity of Ice Wine and the fig notes of Pedro Ximénez Sherry are excellent foils for the spiciness that can be found in Blue cheese.

Blue cheese has quite a long shelf life — it is mold, after all. Soft-ripened varieties are often good for a month or two once they arrive at a store, whereas firmer cheese wheels usually last for about six months or longer. How can you tell what mold is good mold? The paste of the cheese should be white and creamy; if it has become pink, green, brown or very yellow, it’s past its prime. By that time, it should be sold. DB

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