I recognize that blue cheese isn’t for everyone. First, it looks kind of vile: it’s mouldy and blue and we humans generally don’t eat blue things because blue things are usually moldy, and moldy things usually make us sick. We are actually hard-wired to avoid blue foods (I’m sure I read that in a magazine somewhere.) Also, blue cheese kind of tastes like vomit, and I mean this in the very best way. As mentioned previously, the enzymes found in some blue cheeses are actually identical to those found in vomit, so it’s not JUST a coincidence! However, if one can get beyond these simple facts, there is a sumptuous world of blue cheese out there. Alas, my own immediate family cannot seem to move beyond the facts of blue mould and vomit, so I often eat blue cheeses all on my own. Don’t feel sorry for me though, I don’t want to share my blue cheese. After I review it, it spends the rest of the week crumbled in the daily salad, if you must know, and that blue and I really do enjoy the week together.
I’ve been looking for a good Spanish blue to review for a while, Spain being renowned for their Blues. I happily stumbled across today’s cheese, Valdeon at a local cheese shop-at long last.Valdeon is a traditional Spanish blue cheese produced in the valley of Valdeon in the province of Leon, Spain. The climate is less humid here than other regions of Spain and this results in (according to web sources) a “less virulent mold” and hence a less intense tasting blue than some other Spanish blues, specifically the infamously raunchy tasting close cousin of Valdeon, Cabrales. Can we just perseverate for a moment on the phrase “less virulent mold?” That’s the kind of thing that makes cheese newbies run for the hills, so perhaps you might want to keep that little morsel of information to yourself when presenting a Spanish blue on your cheese board.
The rind of a Valdeon is wrapped in the leaves of the sycamore tree, which allows certain bacteria to penetrate the cheese adding a unique and complex taste profile. If there are no leaves, it’s not a Valdeon. Valdeon has DOP (PGI) or Protected Geographical Status. That means that all Valdeon is really Valdeon or someone’s in trouble. Valdeon can be made seasonally from cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or a mixture, so it’s hard to tell what kind of Valdeon I have, as I ‘m not about to run a DNA test on it. The mold used in this cheese is our old friend, penicillium roqueforti, and the milk used may be raw or pasteurized. Maturation takes place in real mountain caves for 2-4 months. And who doesn’t love a cheese matured in a real bona fide mountain cave, I certainly do. Usually.
My little sticky wedge of Valdeon DOP is quite fascinating to behold. It looks a little like a Stilton, the creamy grey paste is shot through with a healthy (might one almost say virulent) looking blue mold. There is black leaf wrapping around the cheese. As I peel back this sycamore wrapping it’s kind of sticky and mouldy and somewhat grim, honestly, it feels like an autopsy. The wrapping does not wish to be separate from the cheese, but off it goes. Once it’s removed, the cheese awaits me. It smells divine, kind of like a mushroomy, reek, sordid, naughty, dark. It almost seems wrong to eat it in the morning, this is a mysterious nighttime cheese.
Here goes…Raunchy! Salty! Spicey! Mouldy! Holy hannah, if this is the milder version Cabrales how do people eat that cheese? Wow, Valdeon is kicking ass and taking numbers. Definitely NOT a starter blue. It’s burning my throat, and making my tongue go numb-incidentally this throat and tongue numbing is caused by mycotoxins (fungal toxins) in the decomposing penicillium roqueforti, don’t worry, it’s not an allergy! (I hope). OK, honestly, I admire this Valdeon, but it scares me. I want to drizzle it with honey and eat it with a pear or a chocolate bar, or something, but just off the plate it’s even a little virulent for my palate.
Wow. I’ve met my match.