Blue Cheese Recipe (A Spanish Blue)
- 3 Gallons of Milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
- 1/8tsp MA 4002 (1/16 for raw milk)
- 1/16tsp Penicillium Roqueforti PJ
- 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) Single Strength Liquid Rennet (1.5-2 ml for raw milk)
- 1.5-2 oz Cheese Salt (3% relative to cheese weight)
- 3/4 tsp Calcium Chloride (for pasteurized milk)
- Good Thermometer
- Mini Measuring Spoons
- Curd Knife
- Spoon or Ladle
- Medium Cheese Mold
- Butter Muslin
- Draining Mat
- Foil Cheese Wrap
- Spanish Blue Info
- Q & A
The most vital stage in this cheesemaking process is so important. The initial curds have a high moisture content, and therefore are very soft with a tendency to compact into a solid mass when they settle in a mold. Yet the culture for a blue cheese demands an airy, porous interior to flourish; a network of small openings and veins between the curds.
To get around this, the cheesemaker must drain the curds by hand, judging by feel alone when the curds are “just right,” having high moisture as well as enough structure to build the air pockets necessary for a blue cheese.
Because this “feel” for curds can only be developed through trial and error, this cheese is best undertaken by experienced cheesemakers, who have made several blue cheeses before.
Heat and Acidify Milk
If using pasteurized milk, add calcium chloride.
Heat the milk to 80F (see note below). As the milk is heating, add the blue mold to about 2 oz of cool water to begin hydrating.
Once the milk is at temperature, add the MA4002 and hydrated PJ-Blue mold.
Hold the milk with cultures quiet for the next 90 minutes to allow the culture to begin doing its work.
Note: This small amount of culture is less than one might expect for 3 gallons of milk. The lower temperature and culture additions are intended to focus on the longer conversion profile from lactose to lactic acid and to prevent the cheese from becoming too acidic.
Coagulate with Rennet
Add single strength liquid rennet.
Hold the milk with cultures and rennet quiet for an additional 90 minutes while the culture continues to work and the rennet coagulates the curd.
The milk will begin to thicken at about 15-20 minutes, but allow it to coagulate to firmness for the full 90 minutes.
After 90 minutes, check for a firm coagulation. If it does not seem firm enough, you can allow it to set up to 50% longer (in this case, up to 45 additional minutes.)
Make a note of this in your notebook, and the next time you make this cheese, adjust the amount of rennet if needed. (more rennet for a quicker set).
Note: The temperature of this milk might drop a few degrees during this long coagulation., but this is ok. You can heat it back to temp after cutting.
Once you have determined that the milk has set well, it is time to cut the curds smaller. This is the first step in reducing the curd moisture.
Cut the curd mass vertically only, and as evenly as possible to about 3/4” pieces (like a checkerboard)
Then allow the cut curd to rest for 5 minutes, so that the cut curd surfaces can heal.
Then make the horizontal cuts to end with curds about the size of a hazelnut.
Rest quiet for about 5 min while the new surfaces heal.
Now it is time to begin drying out the curds. The goal is to partially remove whey while leaving a moist curd to transfer.
For this process, it is the acidity developing as well as the physical movement in the warm whey which tends to dry the curds.
Stir carefully for only 10-15 minutes.
Stir carefully from bottom to top, keeping the entire curd herd moving in the warm whey.
If the temperature of the curds has dropped, bring it back to 80F during this time.
Note: When firm, the curds can be allowed to settle under the whey in preparation for transfer to the draining surface.
Transfer Curds to Draining Surface
The trick to this blue cheese is to keep the high moisture in the curd, but to cool and aerate before transferring the curds to the mold. This firms up the surfaces of the individual curds enough to keep them from collapsing together when placed in the mold. Instead, a network of air gaps and crevices will form between the curds; exactly what a blue needs to develop.
This delicate internal structure is achieved by carefully draining the curds on a separate surface to allow the whey to run off, while physically separating the curds. How much draining is needed at this stage is something that can only be determined by feel. (This is one of the reasons why we recommend this recipe to experienced cheesemakers.)
Transfer the curds to a draining surface.
Note: The draining surface can be anything from a large colander to a cloth on a flat draining table (as pictured here.) What is important is that the whey can drain and the curds can be tossed or separated.
Lightly shake and toss the curds for separation.
Look for signs that most of the free whey has drained out of the curds, and the curds are not clinging together as much. (If the curds become too dry, they will not consolidate in the form well enough .. if too wet or not firmed enough they will collapse in the form and blue development will not go well.)
This agitation process requires a light touch to not break or squash the curds. This can be as simple as a light hand shaking the curds as you move them around the cloth, or using a small flat paddle or scoop.
Note: This step should take about 10-15 minutes for a 3 gallon batch. (20+ minutes for a 6 gallon batch)
Transfer Curds to Molds
As you fill the mold with carefully drained curds, you begin a 4 day process of forming and salting. The freshly drained curds are still warm enough to continue developing acidity and need this time to reach their final acid profile.
Fill the mold with freshly drained curds on the morning of day 1. No weight should be added to the form! Doing so would collapse the small cavities you have worked so hard to create. (See pic above for tears of whey running from the mold)
Note: I find that if I fill to the top of the M28, and still have a handful of curds left on the cloth, I have preserved the moisture I want in the curds. In 5 minutes the curd mass settles enough to add the rest.
Keep the curds warm at 70-75F until they have formed well and are ready to transition to a cooler salting space. (Assuming you have filled the mold on the morning of day 1, they should be ready that evening.)
Note: This is easily done in warmer weather, but during cooler times they need help to keep going. I use bottles of warm water and an insulation layer above during the cold months.
Move the cheese to a cooler space at around 62F and 80% humidity, and let it sit overnight to slow acidification before salting.
Turn the curds at least twice a day over these 4 days. Over the course of this period the cheese is finishing its acid development and the cheese body is developing; hopefully with that internal structure of veins and small cavities.
Note: My simple test for this internal structure is to give the cheese a light slap of the hand, and listen to the sound. Just as you might tap a loaf of bread to hear if it needs more time in the oven, listen for a slight hollowness in your cheese.
Salting does not begin until day 2, at least 24 hours after the form has been filled. By then the curds will have consolidated well into their final form.
Maintain an environment of 62F and 80% humidity until the cheese is ready to begin aging, and make sure to turn the cheese twice a day.
Weigh your cheese to determine the optimum amount of cheese salt. (3% of your cheese’s body weight in salt should suffice, but experienced cheesemakers will understand this is a rule-o-thumb.) Divide this salt into 3 equal parts.
Leaving the cheese in the form, cover the top surface of the cheese with 1/3 of your salt. Let the salt dissolve into a brine as it pulls moisture from the cheese. Some of the salt will run off.
Leave the cheese overnight.
On the morning of day 3, remove the cheese from the mold and salt the sides of the cheese with 1/3 of your salt. (Make sure all the salt from the previous day’s salting has already been absorbed.)
Note: I find it easiest to lay the salt out on a tray and roll the cheese in it until the salt is absorbed (see pic) Allow the salt to absorb the cheese moisture and soak into the cheese, then return to the mold.
On the evening of day 3, remove the cheese from the mold, and use your remaining 1/3 of salt on your cheese’s unsalted bottom surface.
Having finished salting, continue to turn the cheese through day 4. This will be a stabilizing time as the salt slowly works its way into the cheese.
Note: This stabilizing time may need to be extended to 8-10 days depending on surface moisture
Aging this cheese is done in two stages.
For the initial aging, the cheese will need a space with 52-53F 80% moisture and fresh air exchange at least once or twice a day.
Turn daily for 21 days
Around day 8, look for the first hints of blue developing (see pic)
3 days later (around day 11 in this pic) look for a respectable amount of blue. Once you see this surface blue developing, the cheese needs to be aerated. As this blue mold will only grow in the presence of air.
Aerate the cheese by poking it with a stainless steel skewer. Poke a pattern of holes into the top surface spaced about 3/4”-1” apart, and about 2/3 of the way into the cheese. Then, flip the cheese over and repeat on the opposite side.
After about 3 weeks the cheese should show signs and smell of good blue development, indicating it is time to move to final aging.
Note: During the initial aging, the surface should begin to show a greasy or slippery surface and perhaps a rosy color to the surface. This is the result of ambient yeast and bacteria. They do survive the high surface salt and love the moisture . Science refers to it as a ‘Slime layer’ or ‘Mucosa’. Wipe this surface away with cool water and a soft brush or cloth before proceeding to final aging
For the final aging, the cheese will need a cave at 42-43F and 90% humidity for another 2-5 months. This period develops the final blue flavor for this cheese. The longer it ages, the stronger the flavor.
During the ripening, the body of the cheese is transformed from a semi acid condition to a much sweeter flavor as the enzymes do their work on the protein and fat components.
After the mucosa that formed during the initial aging has been wiped down, wrap the cheese in the CWF-18” foil wrap. Like a traditional wrapping of sycamore leaves, this parchment-backed foil wrapping will slow the blue’s development, and allow the blue’s enzymes to work on maturing the cheese.
The final cheese rind may be moist with a rosy tinge to it, or perhaps yellowish grey with a drier feel. The flesh is smooth, white, and compact, with streaks and patches of teal-coloured veins and a powerful, slightly spicy flavour.
Don’t like blue cheese? You just haven’t tasted the right one yet!
This blue cheese is made in a style from the mountains of northern Spain. It comes from the province of Cantabria and is named today as Picon Bejes-Tresviso (in reference to the two villages of Bejes and Tresviso, whose blue cheeses are so similar as to be indistinguishable, at least to the scrutiny of European regulators) It is related to other, similar cheeses from the neighboring provinces of Asturias and Leon; Cabrales and Valdeon respectively.
All of these cheeses have been made for centuries and are what I would call primitives since they were made long before the science of cheesemaking was known. These methods grew out of the necessity of preserving the milk’s nutrition, all with much less than modern equipment. The knowledge of making these cheeses came from the intuition and ambition of the folks who settled here, evolving and multiplying over generations.
While industrialization and regulation have largely shifted production off the farms and into the higher production producers, these blue cheeses are still made in the kitchens of Northern Spain as they have been for centuries. (This is detailed further in the history section.) The cheese in this guideline is patterned after all of these originals, but makes departures where practical. For instance, in the traditional recipes cows milk would often have additions of goat and sheep’s milk from family herds. Here we’ll stick to 100% cow’s milk, following the spirit of the original practice, and using what’s most at hand.
Traditionally no culture was added except what came with the milk and no blue was added since they relied on natural molds from the caves. Neither were the cheeses pierced like most of the blues today. They simply took what nature had to offer.
Similar to a Washed Rind
The Blue Cheeses of Northern Spain, traditionally aged in high mountain caves and wrapped in sycamore leaves, are known for their strong flavor and character. In fact, they’re much stronger than the other blue cheeses I have included in my guidelines to date! They relate more to the Gorgonzola Picante that I have written of previously, yet still stand distinct.
Much like a washed rind, this cheese will typically develop a red-orange rind due to its high moisture and the presence of yeast and bacteria. It tends to show interior veins as well as larger holes (and not by accident, as you will see), with a blue-green mold throughout. The cheese body becomes quite soft with the aging, which can extend 3-5 months. The longer it is aged, the stronger it becomes.
There are several factors that make this cheese so distinctive:
- The milk starts at a lower temperature than most other cheeses
- Lower amount of culture yields a longer, slower acid development
- After coagulation begins, the curd is allowed a long firming period
- The curd is only stirred briefly post cut, and receives no additional cooking
- The curd undergoes a short draining once removed from pot to firm the surface
- No press weight is used
- A long 24 hour wait occurs before salts are added to slow the development of acid
The History of A Spanish Blue Cheese
The first written records of this cheese being made were found from the 14th century writings describing these mountain communities making their primitive cheeses. The high peaks of these rugged mountains are located in Cantabria, near the Picos de Europa National Park
This community where the cheeses were produced was based around the small villages of Bejes and Trevisio, hence the current name of the cheese. Originally they had their own designation but today they are listed in the Euro registry as one for Picón Bejes-Tresviso cheese. The pics above are of the small village of Tresviso
Historically, farms would have a large copper bucket to which they would add their milk and rennet. Cheesemaking was considered a woman’s domain, and farmwives would gauge the temperature and coagulation of the milk with a simple dipped finger. They let their curds dry under a cloth on the windowsill in the cool mountain air, in batches of up to 10 kilos at a time. No culture was added to the raw milk, and neither was blue, since they relied on the natural molds of the caves, where cheeses wrapped in sycamore leaves would be carried to age between 500 and 2,000 meters above sea level. Not all of this cheese would fully bloom with blue mold, since it was not pierced for aeration as we do today. These OG Artisan Cheese Makers simply took what nature had to offer.
Cheese making was very important, especially during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In a time of scarcity and hunger, everyone in the village was able to milk their cows and make cheese; feeding themselves and selling to other regions.
1987 brought the introduction of Designation of Origins, an EU measure meant to protect Europe’s myriad local cheesemaking traditions by defining how and where a particular traditional cheese could be made. This would prevent, say, a large company from making a knockoff version of a traditional cheese, flooding the market and wiping out the practices of an entire village like Tresviso.
This worked, to a degree. For a counterexample, the US does not recognize or enforce Designation of Origins, and as a result most Americans have never tasted real brie! But, as regularly occurs, the benefits of regulation came with pitfalls.
Before 1987, making cheese could all be done in the kitchen. With the Designation of Origins, which by necessity maintained standards for international commerce, suddenly there were new standards of hygiene and procedure, even architecture, that farmhouse cheesemakers struggled to meet.
Today much of the cheese is made in larger commercial facilities. The cheese can no longer be aged wrapped in sycamore leaves. Fortunately, some of the small farms still do follow the traditional way, keeping these practices alive, but they are not allowed to sell under the official, Euro registered name.