Why are all of the cheese holidays so…weird? lol! Back in January we celebrated Cheese Lovers’ Day, which I can definitely get behind, but the July holiday of Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day had foodies all over the country scratching their heads as to what it actually means. And today’s another hum-dinger: we’re supposed to sing the praises of a moldy food! Most people would think that celebrating moldy cheese is a lot like being thankful for rancid meat or rotten vegetables, but good foodies know that mold–or starter bacteria–is the cornerstone for creating many different kinds of cheeses. These bacteria convert milk fats into lactic acid, “aging” the cheese and making it the delicious, cheesy goodness we know in our sandwiches, casseroles, and macaroni. The different types of mold and microbes used for each cheese helps determine what kind of cheese you’re going to end up with. Historically, you let whatever bacteria land on your cheese during the aging process and you placed your bets on what cheese you’d get; nowadays, cheesemakers have specific cultures to guarantee the correct cheese-aging process. Some of these cheeses stay hard, get crumbly, or soften and turn all gooey. And sometimes, the cheese’s end-product looks like you’re still eating mold! (Which you actually are. But it’s a good kind of mold!)
So today, we celebrate some of the best cheeses made with mold cultures around: soft, creamy cheeses like Brie; crumbly ones like Stilton; and the ubiquitous cheese that everyone mistakes for being moldy, bleu cheese. It’s really amazing when you think about how icky molds make such delicious cheeses!
First off, a lesser-known “moldy” cheese that finds a lot of its fans across the pond: Stilton. Originating from England in the town with the same name, Stilton cheese is still only manufactured in five places in the UK, three hundred years after the standardization of the type. Stilton can either be pure white, or have distinctive blue veins running through the cheese, and it has an incredibly strong smell and taste, making it an acquired taste for many (and one of the main examples of the “stinky cheese” rule!) Because of the expense to import it from the UK and its…distinctive taste, Stilton is rarely seen in the United States. But you can find it hiding out in British cuisine corners tucked away throughout New York City. (I never knew until I started doing this blog how many authentic British gastropubs existed in the city!) The Wren, on Bowery in the East Village, makes the British pub classic steak and Stilton pie, full of the pungent aromas and flavors only a real cheese lover could enjoy. What makes it wholly American is that the beefsteak is braised in Guinness beer–probably considered anti-patriotic by the English and a waste of a good pint by the Irish! But the Guinness gives it a stiff, bitter flavor, that is complemented by the strong taste and creamy texture of the Stilton. Order it up with a plate of chips (that’s fries to us Yanks!) and an actual Guinness to finish up your meal.
344 Bowery (between Bond St & Great Jones St)
“From the folks behind Wilfie & Nell, the Wren nods to American and British bar food. Think jars filled with everything from chicken liver pâté to oxtail marmalade; also a tasty-sounding roasted-cauliflower soup with bacon broth; and a steak-and-Stilton pie shoring up the meat-pie trend. Booze-wise, the cocktail list consists of tweaked classics, plus a well-curated wine and beer list.”–New York Magazine
“Both the oxtail marmalade on toast and the Guinness braised steak and Stilton were wonderful but best of all was the beef jerky which was moist, soft and spicy and ate more like heavily rubbed barbecue. A heritage pork sausage sandwich was good but the bread served with it was too dense and unyielding.”–Beef Aficionado
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“We tried the pickled beets, smoked trout pate, and chicken liver mousse jars. They were all spectacular, but I favored the richness of the chicken liver mousse. Both of us got the Guinness braised steak with Stilton pie. It’s served in a small crock/bowl with the meat and mushrooms topped with the crust, rather than stuffed. The flavoring of the meat was on point and I could have eaten 2 more bowls.”–Ty R.
“My friend and I had the cheese board, the stilton and beef pie, and the fish and chips. All were delicious, especially the fish and chips. The service was great, and I loved the decor. Very cozy. It would be great if they offered dessert. Hopefully they’ll add it!”–Sarah B.
It’s tough to believe that Brie is a moldy cheese, because there isn’t any spotty blue stuff scattered into the cheese or a particularly pungent odor to it. But the hard white rind of a wheel of Brie is speckled with mold, making the cheese inside soft and pliable–spreadable cheese without any of the work. Compared to Stilton, Brie is extremely mild in flavor, and has become popular all over the world for its distinct taste and spreadability. And unlike Stilton, which can only be cultivated in certain areas of Great Britain, Brie can be made all over the world, though “true” Brie cheese from the French region with the same name is the most sought-after. Brie’s mildness and texture are perfect for use in sweeter dishes, making a great addition to an end-of-meal cheese plate or as part of a soft, creamy, cheesy baked dessert. Try a mix of sweet and savory–and a mix of culinary cultures–when you try out the grilled apple and Brie quesadilla at the Stanton Social. It’s an American restaurant taking a French spin on a Mexican food staple: the Brie complements the sweetness of the grilled apples and its mildness doesn’t compete with the smoky, rich flavor of maple mustard and bacon, like stronger-tasting cheeses would. Apples and Brie are a common combination but I’m betting you’ve never seen them like this before!
The Stanton Social
99 Stanton St (between Orchard St & Ludlow St)
“Then came our savory options. I was on the fence about ordering the grilled apple and brie quesadilla but decided to give it a try. It came with mustard maple syrup and bacon bits. I was leery of the mustard maple syrup as it sounded like an odd flavor combination. It ended up not being as sweet as I imagined and was like a honey mustard. This dish definitely won for presentation. And in taste? It was a nice brunch option for me as I like my brunch foods on the sweet side and I’d place this on the sweeter side of savory.”–City Grits
“Next up was the grilled apple and brie quesadilla ($11). I didn’t think this would taste all that great because, honestly, this sounds like something you can make at home. But this turned out to be my favorite dish of the meal. I don’t remember tasting either apple or brie because mixed in were mustard-maple syrup and smoked bacon bits. It was sweet and smoky, crunchy and crispy and pretty delicious.”–Maxine Writes
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Quesadilla- More like fillo dough than a tortilla. This gives it a good crunchy texture. Green apples paired w creamy sweet Brie offset quite well by a drizzle of wasabi oil.”–Cherish H.
“we then chose the rest of our selections consisting of the baby back ribs, apple & brie quesadilla and risotto cakes. the standout from this bunch for me was the quesadilla. the brie gave an unexpected bluish flavor that i thought went great with the apple flavors.”–Philip M.
But hands-down, the cheese that’s thought of first and most often when you thin about moldy cheese is blue cheese. Whether crumbly or creamy, in a salad or cooked into a burger, this cheese just looks plain weird! During the cheesemaking process, bacteria spores are injected into the cheese, which is then left in a temperature-controlled environment. (Nowadays that means a special cheesemaking chamber, but historically? Blue cheese was produced in caves!) Roquefort and Gorgonzola are popular blue cheeses, but we’re most familiar with plain ol’ blue, which is the cheapest to produce and can be produced anywhere in the world. And it always has a distinctive blue or blue-green look to it, whether it be a light pallor throughout the cheese or spots of bright, moldy color–so much that you don’t know if the blue cheese has gone bad! But we just love blue cheese, its most popular incarnations popping up on salads and as a topping for hamburgers. One of the most celebrated blue cheese burgers in New York comes from Félie, an unassuming Irish pub that serves up Angry Blue Cheeseburgers to sports fans. Maytag blue cheese is crumbled both into the beef burger patty and placed on top as a topping, along with beer-battered onion rings. The “angry” part of the cheeseburger comes from the patty being dipped in Frank’s Red Hot sauce before cooking! The spiciness of the burger is definitely offset by the big chunks of blue cheese, which helps to neutralize any sizzle on your tongue. This place is perfect to catch up with coworkers for a beer and a burger, or just to unwind after a long day of work with some moldy cheese 😉
131 W 33rd St (between Avenue Of The Americas & West 33rd St)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The “Frank’s Angry Blue Cheese Burger” was really good. I was a bit concerned that the hot sauce would overpower the taste of the meat, blue cheese, and crispy fried onions also on the sandwich, but it really didn’t. It just provided a little bit of kick and a nice flavor. I definitely wouldn’t call it hot, and future diners should have no fear of being smoked out by the heat.”–Jonathan N.
“I ordered the angry bleu cheese burger. It was insanely good and packed with flavors (imagine bleu cheese, hot sauce and onion rings at once in your mouth). It was super filling. I have high expectations for burgers and this one definitely met mine.”–Melissa C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!