Winter Blues


‘I see you have Bleu de Termignon,’ he said looking up and down the counter, ‘That’s very rare!  There’s only one producer.’

‘We’ve been selling cheese from two producers,’ I corrected, ‘We still have some of both on the display.  Most of the cheese is made by Catherine Richard and she tends to make a firmer, drier cheese but this piece here is all we have left of Bernard Richard’s cheeses and they tend to be softer and more broken down.’

He, was a french exporter who wanted also to import Cheddar and Stilton and to that end had just been in a meeting with Jay Butcher of Neal’s Yard Dairy.  Unfortunately for him, as Mons Cheesemongers, buys its french cheese exclusively from Mons in France, he wasn’t going to get a sale here.  However he took the news very well, was most impressed by the name of Herve Mons (‘He is very well known in France’ I was told) and proceeded to peruse the cheeses we had out to sell and try a few.

Bleu de Termignon is not an easy sell.  It looks scary.  It has entirely natural blueing – no mould powder is put into the milk and the cheeses aren’t even pierced.  It blues inwards from cracks in the rind and it looks in some way prehistoric.  It tastes extremely subtle though.  At its best, the blueing has fennel, liquorice notes and because the blueing only follows tiny cracks in the curd, it is very gentle and herbacious rather than having bigger pockets of blue which you get in most continental blue cheeses.  It’s made up in the Savoie in a ridiculously beautiful mountain valley and I can’t help feeling that it is a glimpse into a bygone age of cheesemaking.  Catherine Richard uses wooden moulds to drain her curd which must help those natural cultures of Penicillium roqueforti going in the environment and drains her curd overnight in great big bags before it is moulded.  In fact, there are many aspects of the recipe that are very close to Stilton.  It’s just interesting to note that Stilton has developed into a creamy textured cheese over the years (but in that not so far removed from Bernard Richard’s Termignans) where Bleu de Termignan even in its softer cheeses has more structure.  Again, this is purely supposition as I don’t know the cheeses, but Piedmont’s Castelmagno and Blu del Moncenisio (in its farmhouse versions), I feel must surely follow similar techniques as well or perhaps if they don’t any more, they must have developed the same way.  Blu del Moncenisio in particular is made on the Italian side of the mountain of Mont Cenis.  The Richards are just over the border on the French side.


Termignan isn’t the only blue cheese on the Mons Cheesemongers counter however, we are also selling the much more crowd pleasing Persille de Beaujolais which is effectively a Fourme d’Ambert recipe but they use hemispherical Gorgonzola vats and buy their mould cultures from Italian Gorgonzola making friends.  This may or may not be Penicillium expansum / glaucum as discussed in a previous post but it certainly has a gentler and more mushroomy flavour than most savoury, herby roqueforti blueing.  Another example of how the AOC system isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to quality because this cheese is gentle and delicious and yet can not command the prestige of Fourme.


(Persille de Beaujolais being made in semi hemispherical Gorgonzola vats)

And as if there were a theme to these last two cheeses we come on to Persille de Malzieu.  This is Herve Mons’s Stichelton in effect.  It is Roquefort but more traditional than Roquefort.   Most Roquefort production is done on an industrial scale these days.  There are smaller producers and there are some extremely quality driven producers, but there are no longer farmhouse Roquefort producers.  Herve has persuaded a farmer just outside the AOC area for Roquefort cheese production but who had been selling their Lacaune sheeps milk for Roquefort production to make cheese with it.  They basically make a farmhouse Roquefort and rather than following the strict letter of the law for recipe as laid down by the AOC, they mature it at warmer temperatures and without it going into the famous caves.  They also seem to pierce it less.  In essence they are going back to some of the techniques that would have been employed in farmhouse Roquefort production without the access to big refrigerated cold rooms or the desire to deliver that big, salty strong blue hit that Roquefort has become known for.  In my opinion, it is delicious.  It has the caramel notes of sheeps milk with the herby notes of blueing.  That and the Bleu de Termignan are my favourite blue cheeses to sell.  Oh and it’s about two thirds the price of Roquefort too.  Without the AOC, it can’t command the same price.  Better cheese, less money.  I’m in!

Glaucum? Expansum? Penicillium? Gliocladium? Let’s call the whole thing off!

I last wrote about the blue cheese course I attended at the School of Artisan Food.  It was hugely informative and I learned a lot.  One of the things that impressed me was that not all types of Penicillium roqueforti in blue cheeses are the same and not all blue cheeses even contain Penicillium roqueforti.  Some use a mould I’d never heard of – Penicillium glaucum.

If google images is to be believed this is P roqueforti under a microscope
And this is Penicillium glaucum / expansum (read on for nomenclature explanation)
As I always do, I posted the link on Facebook and then sat back a little surprised as the Facebook comment thread lengthened.  Penicillium glaucum is best known as the Gorgonzola mould but also, according to Ivan Larcher, very suitable for use in goats cheese and naturally occurring on rinds of Loire cheeses like Valancay.  Was this the same as was sourced from Coquardand used at Sleight Farm?  No, that’s Penicillium album, but it looks similar.  Is Penicillium glaucum also in Stilton (it’s sometimes referred to in textbooks as Roqueforti (Glaucum)).  Are Penicillium album and glaucum the same?
This was above my knowledge level, but when something’s a bit out of my league, I like to catch up and understand.  Luckily for me, Paul Thomas of ThimbleCheesemakers and a biochemist to boot, is very generous with his explanations and very good at explaining things so that the idiot (that would be me) can follow.
I will basically copy and paste what he emailed me because he says it better than I can.
 ‘As a quick background to microbiological classification, historically scientists would have peered down the microscope to attempt to assemble a vast number of species into some kind of order.
This creates some problems.  Some microbes have stages in their life cycle during which they may behave in different ways (which may lead to the identification of two species that are actually one).  There may be an element of variation within a species (that may or may not deserve subsequent separation into two species).  And, given the vast diversity of species it is possible to incorrectly identify a species of assign it to the wrong group.  If incorrectly assigned would it then perhaps lead to incorrect assumptions about the characteristics specific to the group and increase the likelihood of further errors in classification of other species?
The introduction of molecular biology techniques such as DNA sequencing makes it easier to classify species now according to genomic similarity.
So, Penicillium is a Genus (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species) and roqueforti, camemberti, album or glaucum are all species names.
P. glaucum is more commonly called P. expansum outside of cheese circles and is sometimes used to describe the light green mould found in Gorgonzola. I believe that David Jowett* was referencing Walker-Tisdale & Woodnut when he said that stilton had been described as being veined with “P. roqueforti (P.glaucum)”.  I’ve never seen it available as a culture – or at least not described as such.  I suppose it is possible that some of the milder P. roqueforti cultures may turn out to be glaucum – or it may turn out that what is often attributed to P. glaucum in Gorgonzola production is actually a low-pigment, low-methyl ketone (the group of compounds which cause the distinctive ‘blue cheese’ taste) form of P. roqueforti.  The cultures almost certainly predate any interest in sequencing them.
P. expansum/ glaucum is associated principally with decay in apples. Citrus Green Mould (P. digitatum) is very closely related to P.expansum.
P. album is now called Gliocladium album (it has been reclassified into another genus). This is the one we would commonly associate with the greyish appearance of the rind of a Loire goats cheese. Coquard sell a product described as P.album that produces a rind with an appearance compatible with that of a Loire goats cheese but, of course, it may be possible that natural mould growth in either the surface ripened goats cheese or a farmhouse gorgonzola may actually consist of several Penicillium (and Gliocladium) species.
While use of pasteurisation dramatically reduces the bacterial diversity of the finished cheese, it has less of an impact upon moulds.  Moulds present in very low numbers in the raw milk and are simply a representation of the moulds present environmentally and therefore continuously inoculated into the milk/curd/cheese. With Lyburn’s Stoney Cross, I saw considerable rind diversity (including some Sporendonema) despite the pasteurisation of the milk.
On a related subject, as I know you are keen to express the natural microflora of the milk, it may prove to be impossible to influence one Penicillium over another as the species present similar requirements with regard to temperature, pH and moisture.  Darker, more methyl ketone-producing strains seem to tend to dominate in natural blueing – either because they are more dominant and outcompete the milder strains or because they are simply more noticeable.  Termignon is a case worth studying in this instance and, I imagine, similar to the pre-industrial two-curd Gorgonzola.’
Back to my take on the situation.
At the end of the day, to my mind, there are a couple of key areas that confuse the cheesey mouldy world that Paul addressed.  Re-classification and new technologies that post date the accumulated knowledge of even pretty technical cheesemakers confuse us with new names that may or may not correlate with what has been written in the past and our sources for information may or may not be up to date with the latest nomenclature.  However also there is the environmental factor.  What we believe to be in the cheese be it Gorgonzola, Persille de Beaujolais, Fourme d’Ambert may be a glorious mixture of what you put into the milk and what the environment favours.  What you buy from Coquard in terms of a rind culture to allow it to resemble a Loire cheese, may actually not be present when your cheese is finally mature as your own environment’s influences take effect.
Back to that eternal balancing act that the cheesemaker somehow has to manage.  Cheese is an expression of your milk, your environment and your skills.  And thank God for that!
*David Jowett had started the Facebook comment thread and contributed a lot of the conversation that followed.  Thank you for keeping me on my toes.
PS.  A side issue.  
Penicillium expansum (you know, the one I used to call glaucum) when found in apples can cause an unpleasant mycotoxin: Patulin which causes gene mutation and therefore is considered to be a potential carcinogen (although that is not yet proven).  Before you panic and decide never to eat blue cheese again, read on.
About 10 years ago, I needed to write something for Neal’s Yard Dairy to help their shop staff explain  to worried customers that mould wasn’t poisonous (it isn’t).  At the time the leading authority on the subject was the late Tony Williams of Williams & Neaves Microbiologists.  
Tony explained to me that the moulds that you find in cheese, while they might produce toxins in other media, tend not to produce it in cheese.  Although there isn’t much research done, he had heard a theory that suggested the lactic acid bacteria in cheese might even consume the toxin themselves as the cheeses matured. While this is a pleasing idea, it wasn’t one he could prove, nor did he.  However he did state that to date it had been found that for reasons of pH and Water activity (Aw) that are found in cheese, it did not provide the right conditions for its moulds to produce mycotoxins.  
In other words, the blue mould in your Gorgonzola and Stilton and any other cheese where P expansum grows, are fine.  But give the mouldy apples a miss.