Writing about cheese rind got me thinking about the role of microorganisms such as bacteria and moulds have in cheese-making – after all, without them we wouldn’t have cheese! Like cheese rind, it seems that many of us are a bit wary of mould, maybe because it is usually associated with ‘old’ or deteriorated food. But as far as cheese is concerned there is nothing ‘wrong’ with most moulds found on or even in your cheese; moreover, they play a significant role in producing some of the most delicious varieties of flavours and textures in many cheeses.
Cheese-makers have been manipulating moulds and bacteria to develop different flavours and textures for many hundreds of years. When or how they first started to harness this natural phenomenon is uncertain. Of course, there are a number of myths and legends associated with it, but (forgetful shepherds and milk maids aside) what we can deduce is that many of the limestone caves, cellars and barns where cheese was most often stored would have provided the ideal environment in which moulds and bacteria grow and thrive. Over time cheese-makers learnt to recognise which moulds create the most desirable cheeses and sought the optimum conditions in which to store their cheese to allow the preferred moulds to grow.
Interestingly, we have no qualms about eating the ‘blue’ (mould) in blue cheese such as Stilton, or even the white mould of Brie – perhaps because it’s expected? But what about Cheddar Cheese?
In more recent years blue mould in cheddar cheese has mostly been considered a defect and often rejected. Indeed, you’ll be hard pressed to find any Blue Cheddar for sale on any shelves of any supermarket! To avoid wasting their efforts producing ‘unsellable’ cheese, all cheddar cheesemakers now aim to reduce the chances of their cheese containing any natural ‘blue’. Producing large scale block-formed cheddar and maturing in plastic bags prevents mould developing in most cheddar cheese today.