<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Mold Misery - Blue Cheese - Roquefort - Brie - Camembert





Cheese Molds


Years ago, I read a lot of books on Tibet and neighboring Buddhist countries such as Mustang, Sikkim, and Bhutan.  I believe it was a book about Mustang—but it could have been any of the books I read at that time—that described a custom of putting bits of cheese over the entrance to home.  When someone was ill, they scraped this area and used the powder that fell in a tea.  The author might have regarded this custom as a silly superstition, but actually, the local people had a way of producing natural penicillin.

A quick summary of the cheese making process may refresh our memories. Cheese is obviously made from milk: milk from cows, goats, sheep, or even yaks and buffalos.  The first step is to turn the milk to curds.  Then, the whey is removed by pressing.  Next, the cheese is aged by bacterial and fungal action. 

Blue Cheese

While Roquefort is highly regarded by some, it disgusts me and makes others sick.  If you are a fan of blue cheeses, then you probably appreciate that these cheeses are less fibrous.  This is because the mold has decomposed, okay broken down, the more complex molecules . . . and imparted the characteristic sharp taste to this cheese.  That taste is due to the fungal metabolites, butyric acid, something with a commercial application as a disinfectant.  If the same odor were found in butter as in blue cheese, you would throw away the butter because it is rancid.

The truth is, if you knew how Roquefort cheese is made, or rather how it used to be made, you would probably never eat it again!  Or maybe, you are not bothered by aesthetics and you can by-pass your instincts and appreciate the science?  Either way, we are talking here about mold. What gives Roquefort its marbled look is mold, to be specific, Penicillium roqueforti


Brie is another cheese with mold.  I vividly remember a quiet dinner with the Swiss doctor with whom I stayed on my last trip to Europe.  She served a number of different cheeses and ate the rind of the Brie and then watched with a thinly veiled, ergo polite, look of astonishment as I cut away the moldy outer crust.  Brie also has a type of penicillium as a starter:  Penicillium candidum.

This skin is formed by molds on the surface of the cheese that begin with very thin, hairy white strands.  The French call this poil de chat:  cat's fur.  The furry part is rubbed off and what remains is regarded as edible by those who consider it a delicacy.  Like Charlemagne's first encounter with this cheese, I prefer the soft inside (but Charlemagne, as the story goes, was won over and came to regard the fur as something very special.)

Cheese Molds

I suppose there would be propagandists in the cheese industry who view Roquefort as possessed by a useful mold, i.e. penicillium, a mold that loves dark caves and stones (and basements and garages.)  You could study how these blue cheeses are made, but I will save you a little research and go straight to the bottom line.  Each new batch of cheese requires the use of some of the previous batch (unless using a commercial starter).  To activate the new batch, you need only dip a skewer in the old and pierce the new. 

Next time, you are peeling fruit or cutting away some mold, think about this and be really careful what your knife has touched!  You could make someone very sick with just one careless motion.

Keep in mind that spores have long feeding tubes called hyphae that can penetrate well beyond the visible surface of the mold colony.  It would be really easy to stray way off topic, but when there are many strands of hyphae bundled together, the ganglion is called a mycelium.  It can become a large mass and completely occupy a space, its meal.  The hyphae composing the mycelium can be very fast growing, some adding one kilometer to the mycelium each day.


Ingrid Naiman
15 November 2005
9 October 2010

Recommended link: http://www.uoguelph.ca/~gbarron/MISCELLANEOUS/penicill.htm

Sacred Medicine Sanctuary



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