Roquefort and Gorgonzola manifest the two strains of blue mold, Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium glaucum, in their most traditional and famous forms. They may be the oldest blue cheeses, the prototypes; but they’re still around, eaten daily. Not dinosaurs. Perhaps they are to blue cheese what Plato and Aristotle are to philosophy (supposedly), or mice and weasels to mammals-in-general.
If we take these two as the primeval predecessors of all blue cheese — then where did they come from? How did humans (more specifically, the French and Italians) finally figure it out, the Great Blue Secret? The stories are surprisingly similar. Actually, according to prominent versions of these legends, they are surprisingly exactly the same:
A young and amorous dairyman, with the stolidity of a lobotomized labrador, abandons his milk (or cheese) to chase tail, as they say — to slobber and gape at the local sirens. When he comes back, having carved his love-blather on a thousand trunks and who knows what else, the milk (or cheese) has changed, and so has his world: during the young man’s absence a Great Blue Secret was bestowed on his milk (or cheese). As fearless as he is lascivious, the youth does not throw out his altered meal, but nourishes it, even reproduces it. And so: Blue Cheese!
I’ll allow for a little more specificity — but not much:
Roquefort: In Rouergue, France, a shepherd enslaved to Cupid leaves his lunch of cheese and rye in a limestone Cave of Combalou, so that he may pursue the village beauties with two free hands for pawing. Days later he remembers that cheese in the cave — maybe he repented of his carnal concupiscence and his faculties were restored, miraculously, or he realized that cheese was all along a better friend to him than hussies, always so self-sacrificing . . . Either way, the shepherd curses his birth and returns, only to find a strange blue growth on his cheese nugget, a colony extended from the moldy bread. He eats the cheese anyway, out of curiosity (or hoping it’s poison and he’ll expire at last, proving the depth of his romantic spirit); his tongue touches blue and he has an epiphany; Roquefort is born.
(Rye bread encourages the growth of the blue mold natural to those Caves of Combalou. It was used later – stale, moldy rye, I mean – to cultivate P. roqueforti for the soon-famous local cheese.)
Gorgonzola: In the foothills of northern Italy, in or near the town of Gorgonzola, a similarly distracted cheesemaker ditches his evening batch to rendezvous with a lover. (They pass a horrible night, all awkward missteps leading to bickering, silence and hurrumphs. Thank heaven for sunrise. As the swain returns to his cheese, he vows never to love again. That’s how I like to imagine it.) At dawn, hoping to conceal his negligence, the penitent dairyman ladles new morning curd atop the old, ripe evening milk — which has accumulated strange blue patches. He goes through with the cheesemaking process, despite the blue, and is later delighted to discover that he prefers this new, tainted concoction to whatever he was making before.
Moral: Bitter love makes better cheese.
(Mixing evening and morning milk is one key aspect of traditional Gorgonzola production. Along with cursing your cativa lover.)