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Beginner Blues

Northern Italy produces a range of blues – and some are quite friendly


Most people who profess to hate blue cheese don’t know a thing about it. They see blue veins, and they turn their peacock heads toward the Jarlsberg display. What a pity. If only they would close their eyes and accept a spoonful of Gorgonzola Dolce, then they might think they were eating vanilla ice cream. Or if they accepted a morsel of Cremificato Verde Capra, they might mistake it for lemon frosting.

Not all blues are badasses. Some tread very, very lightly.

To be frank, I am a lover of rich-hot-spicy blue cheese (like Cabrales and Roquefort), but because gentle springtime flavors will soon be upon us, I want to give you a tour of some mild blues.

Put on your slippers and come with me.

The blue cheeses I want you to meet are the kind you can nurse at night in bed alongside an aperitif, or slip onto a cheese board designed for inscrutable guests. The northern Italians – with their creamy Lombardy milk — have perfected the smooth-talking softie (they are also masters of mascarpone and ricotta), so it’s no surprise to find their subtlety in a variety of blue cheeses that even a toddler could love.

What Gorgonzolas Have In Common

You can always recognize Gorgonzola by its green-blue striations. Other blues contain indigo, navy-purple, or blue-black striations, but Gorgonzola always has a green twinge. Lombardians refer to this coloration as erborinato, which means “parsley.”

True Gorgonzola (marked “DOP”) is regulated by the Italian government and must be made using cow’s milk from designated provinces. It originates in the area around Milan and is produced by several manufacturers, including Mauri, which exports some of the best Gorgonzola to the U.S.

Blue-green veins emerge when wheels of Gorgonzola are pierced with long needles, creating thin airshafts that encourage mold to develop. Contrary to popular belief, mold is not injected into the cheese. Bacteria called Penicillium gorgonzola are stirred into the curds early in the cheesemaking process; air vents simply enliven the bacteria.

All Gorgonzola is rindless. Cheesemakers wrap each wheel in foil to retain moisture. The same is true of Roquefort, a similarly creamy blue made by the French. You’ll note that natural-rinded blues, like Stilton, are dry and crumbly – more like a scone than ice cream cake.

Three Mild Blues

Try out this trio on a dessert board:

Gorgonzola Dolce

Dolce means “sweet,” and this silky number is a cherry bomb, a luxurious confection that makes white chocolate seem brash and salty. The texture is like that of an unbaked cheesecake. Veining is minimal. Adding fruit, or even a fruit-twinged beverage, is essential here — try a sour cherry ale.

Blue Mauri

The concentrated blue veining calls to mind claw marks, but Blue Mauri is not that sharp. With a blend of cow and goat’s milk, this hybrid is lush in texture but not as unctuously sweet as Gorgonzola Dolce. Notice the beautifully rounded flavor. A drizzle of honey tempers any sharp inflections.

Cremificato Verde Capra

Made from pure goat’s milk, this rare character offers a lemon twist and a touch of white pepper. You can pair it with savory foods like sautéed mushrooms, or play off its soft bite with bittersweet chocolate. A chocolate or coffee stout works especially well.

Pairing Ideas:
Mellow to medium-zesty blues benefit from a fruit treatment. Add ripe pears, thin slices of green apple, dried apricots, Amarena cherries in syrup, even pineapple. Walnuts or pistachios like to cuddle, along with honey and biscotti.

Pair mellow blues with porters, fruit ales, stouts, or sparkling whites. Want to keep it local? Try flutes of Moscato or Asti Spumante.

Tenaya Darlington is a Swiss citizen and former resident of Wisconsin, two things that ensured she would grow up to be a cheese fiend. By day, she teaches Food Writing at Saint Joseph's University; by night she pens her dairy-centric blog, Madame Fromage. In 2011, Zagat named her one of the 140 most important foodies to follow on Twitter (@mmefromage). Tenaya’s work has appeared in Cooking Light, Culture, Grid, Global Traveler, and Utne Magazine. In May 2013, Running Press will publish her first cheese book, Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings.


  1. Peacock heads! I love it! I didn’t need any convincing about blues, but if I had, this would have done it. Lovely pictures. Beautiful words.

  2. What a great post. Gorgonzola Dolce is one of my favorites of the beginner blues. It’s delicate and plain delicious! I also created a beginner blues post on my blog as well!

  3. Petra says:

    Your blog posts always make me want to go out and buy cheeses 🙂 Very well done – it takes real craft to be able to describe the taste of a cheese so we, your readers, can almost taste it!

  4. Ana says:

    Add on to this list the famous Castelmagno from Piedmont region! truly a unique blue.

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