Thursday, January 13, 2011

Penicillin Cheese

Those with an interest in the culinary arts may wonder, “What makes blue cheese blue?” The answer? Mold.

Penicillium roqueforti, a relative of Penicillium chrysogenum (the mold responsible for the creation of the antibiotic penicillin) is introduced into the cheese-making process in order to give the product the green-bluish hue that gives blue cheese its name.

The mold’s growth is promoted during the “ripening” process in which holes are poked into the wheels of cheese, allowing oxygen to advance the spread of P. roqueforti:

“This mold grows within the cheese and breaks down complex organic molecules into simpler ones, smoothing out the fibrous structure of the cheese and providing the sharp flavor and smell associated with blue cheeses.” (From article What makes blue cheese blue?)

The discovery of the potential use of this mold is quite like that of penicillin; accidental. The caves of Roquefort, France in which farmers stored cheese for aging contained large amounts of P. roqueforti that would grow on the cheese as it matured.

Now it gets strange here. The farmers would return to the cave and for some unknown reason they not only sold the moldy cheese but decided to cultivate it; with the mold as part of the production process:

“The farmers would collect the milk, curdle it with rennet, then scoop the curds by hand into molds. A powder made from grating moldy bread was sprinkled into the curds . . . The bread was stored in the same damp caves that aged the cheese, and in a few weeks it turned blue and was ground to dust for cheese making.” (From What makes blue cheese blue?)

However unhealthy moldy cheese may sound, the Penicillium roqueforti mold actually does contain the same antibiotic properties as its relative penicillin; just in a smaller, less concentrated dosage. While blue cheeses have been found to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium and Staphylococcus, physicians recommend the usage of regular pharmaceuticals, as opposed to copious amounts of Roquefort Blue Cheese, to fight off an infection.

But for those of you so inclined, here is a step by step process on making blue cheese of your very own:

1 comment:

John Latto said...

Mmm Roquefort. Strangely I dislike the smell of Roquefort but like the taste - something I didn't think was possible given the close association between smell and taste.

If you've ever smelled a really ripe Roquefort you might think you had reached the limits of cheese decomposition. In that case you should Google 'Casu Marzu'. A cheese so offensive that it is illegal in the one place that people might want to eat it.....