Gorgonzola is indisputably one of Italys greatest contributions to the world. I am utterly unafraid of to make such a statement, especially since I am utterly unafraid of bold, piquant blue cheeses. Taking into consideration that there are those of you who may not be quite so amorous of this particularformaggio, I hope to, at the very least, spark your curiosity to try this marvelously moldy wonder.
The starting point for any discussion of blue cheeses begins with a quick lesson on how they attain their very blueness. It is a common misconception that the mold is injected into the cheeses after they have aged. The fact of the matter is that the particular strain ofPenicillium roquefortiis introduced to the milk before the curd is even formed. Creamy milk, coming from cows happily grazing in the Alpine valleys of Piemonte, is heated to a particular temperature.
After thePenicilliumis added, large curds are formed and then cut in to walnut-sized lumps. The curd is then loosely packed, drained, and then pressed into cylindrical molds. The molds are placed on specially inclined boards to further encourage the drainage of the whey in different directions. Once drained, the cheeses are transferred into damp, followed by warm ripening rooms. They are given a complete rubdown with salt, and after one month of aging, long copper needles are inserted at different points at the top and bottom of the cheeses. Here is where the colors come in. The needles introduce the presence of air, which in turn, awakens thePenicillumand allows for the growth of the bluish-green veining that gives Gorgonzola its distinctive flavor and appearance. One of a handful of cheeses given DOP status, Gorgonzola is produced in Lombardia as well as Piemonte.
Despite its piquant and salty qualities, Gorgonzola is prized for its rich, creamy texture, buttery flavor and a long, lingering finish. It is a perfect foil for sweet accompaniments, such as chestnut honey or ripe pears. Its subtle nuttiness blends perfectly with toasted walnuts, which are able to hold their own against the assertive flavor of the cheese. A classic flavor combination is Gorgonzola with walnuts and fresh mint, normally seen together as a pasta sauce.
I took my inspiration for the following recipe fromThe Babbo Cookbookfrom that dish, combining it with my fondness for the kitschy classic ball of flavored cream cheese, rolled in nuts and served with Ritz crackers at cocktail parties circa the 1950s. Skip the crackers and serve these tasty morsels with some slightly toasted slices of striato, the Italian version of a baguette. The sour cherry jam, simmered in a juicy, full-bodied red wine, is the perfect accompaniment to the deep, penetrating flavor of the cheese, and the mint adds a refreshing, bright note.