These early cheeses would have had blue-veining growing under their rinds and along any cracks from the surface toward the center. Many of the wild molds that caused this original blueing wouldn’t have tasted good, or even been safe to eat. No doubt the first blue-veined cheese was eaten out of hunger rather than desire or curiosity. But slowly, by a process of trial and error, some were found to have a pleasant flavor and texture, and so those strains of mold would have been cultivated, first by placing more cheese in the same spot and later by placing bread in the cellars or caves and allowing the molds to grow on the bread. Then fine crumbs of the moldy bread would be mixed into the milk when a fresh batch of cheese was being made.
English Stilton (see article on Stilton) and French Roquefort (see article on roquefort) are probably the best-known, most widely copied blue-veined cheeses worldwide. The techniques used to produce them are quite different, however. The French spike their cheeses almost as soon as they’re made to encourage mold growth, then, when enough mold has grown, wrap them so that the oxygen supply is cut off, halting the growth of the mold, and leave the cheeses to finish their maturing. Stilton producers, on the other hand, drain the curds for up to a week, then seal the surface of the cheese and leave it to mature for 5–6 weeks, spiking it to allow blue-vein growth only after it’s matured.
As they grow, the molds give off ammonia and other by-products, which contribute a distinctive flavor and aroma. Most are also quite salty and tangy, as a relatively high salt and high acid environment discourages the growth of undesirable molds and yeasts, while the desirable blue mold strains don’t mind high salt and acid levels. This makes them very savory cheeses that marry well with slightly sweet flavors, such as dessert wines, fruit, and chutneys.
As with most cheese types, there’s a wide range of flavors and textures among blue-veined cheeses. People who are hesitant about eating a blue cheese often enjoy bloomy rind cheeses with just a few pockets of blue mold throughout their interior (see article on Blue White Molds), working their way up through some of the creamier, slightly sweeter, scraped-rind cheeses such as King Island Roaring Forties, to the more strongly blued and spicy, natural-rinded Stilton.