Tasting cheese should be uncomplicated. Enjoying it, even easier. But when you buy a special cheese don't forget to appreciate it.
This does not mean scrutinizing every mouthful to determine where the cows were grazing: Just savouring the first bite or two - without the crackers - can lead you to discover wonderful flavours you may otherwise miss.
This kind of mindful tasting is especially useful with cheeses you may be reluctant to dig into. For many people this encompasses the entire category of blue-veined cheese.
Commit to trying a small bit of blue cheese whenever you have the chance, and you may find one or even several you like.
Instead of rejecting them all, you may realize you prefer a creamy texture rather than a crumble; you may find a spicy kick more to your taste than a tangy, cultured-cream pungency. Also be aware of salt levels and how they balance with other flavours.
And before you take the plunge and taste, be sure you look at the appearance of the cheese. A well-made blue's veining should be evenly spread throughout (generally the more veining the more piquant the cheese). It should not be wet or slimy. Give it a good sniff.
Instead of avoiding the "strong" smell, try and identify a cheese's earthy odour or its creamy essence. A cheese will smell the best when freshly sliced. If purchased pre-sliced, break off a small piece to release the fragrance from the interior. In the case of a blue, let it sit for a few minutes. Any ammonia smell should dissipate within that time.
When braving the blue cheese scene, a good place to start is Geai Bleu from La Bergerie Aux 4 Vents in New Brunswick. It exhibits a nice range of flavour without coming on too strong. Originally named after the Blue Jays that were plentiful on the family farm, this cheese is a raw cows' milk blue aged for a minimum of 60 days.
You won't see a lot of veining through this cheese - it has a predominantly pale, fresh-looking paste. The edges of the cheese have a brown-orange hue with a buttery appearance at the ripest points. The aroma is of earth, with the richness of sour cream.
Let a small piece of Geai Bleu dissolve in your mouth - the sharpness on the edges of the tongue will be countered by its buttery flavour and velvety mouth feel.
And once you're won over by Geai Bleu, explore further. Give each blue a fair chance. A blue by any other name is not always the same.
Sue Riedl studied at the Cordon Bleu in London.
On the block
Cheese Geai Bleu
Origin Champ Doré, N.B.
Producer La Bergerie Aux 4 Vents
Cheese makers Monique Roussel, André Martineau
Milk Raw cow, Holstein
Type Semi-firm, unpressed, foil-wrapped blue, aged 60 days
Shape 3-kilogram cylinder (sold individually in half-wheels)
Food Matches Sweet accompaniments always go well with the saltiness of a blue cheese. Makes an excellent dessert option with a dessert wine or honey
Distributors Provincial Fine Foods, Fromagerie Atwater
Toronto: Whole Foods Market in Oakville and Yorkville, Pusateri's, Cheese Boutique
Guelph, Ont.: Ouderkirk & Taylor
Kingston: Cooke's Old World Shop
Calgary: Blush Lane
Vancouver: Mount Pleasant Cheese
Moncton: Les Gourmandes, Dieppe Market (Saturdays)