In a Bleu Mood

Blue with Walnuts

With Roquefort so dominant in the French blue-cheese niche, it’s hard for alternative French blues to gain traction here. But Roquefort producers have tangled with the FDA in recent months, and some producers are no longer shipping it. That leaves a little more shelf space for delights like Bleu des Causses, a sublime and underappreciated cave-aged wheel from the same region.
In fact, the two cheeses have historic links. When cheesemakers didn’t have enough sheep’s milk to make Roquefort, they would make the same cheese with a sheep-cow blend.  Cow’s milk was cheaper and easier to come by, and some producers transitioned to cow’s milk alone, although the recipe was in other respects largely the same. By 1925, Roquefort had a legal definition—it had to be made with raw sheep’s milk and aged in the Combalou caves. So the non-compliant producers needed their own name.
The Causses are limestone plateaus in this region of southwest France. Like Roquefort, Bleu des Causses is a foil-wrapped blue partly matured in natural limestone caves. Wheels range roughly from four to six pounds. The cheese has its own AOC (appellation d’origine controlée), which allows raw or thermized milk and defines a limited production zone. The cows must be pastured during the grass season and for a minimum of 120 days.
Aged for two to four months, a wheel of Bleu des Causses is full flavored and forceful but not as piquant as Roquefort. I love its moist, open, tender texture. It has plentiful blue-gray marbling, a nutty aroma and an ingratiating creaminess. It absolutely needs some good bread. Serve it with a rustic baguette or, better yet, a walnut loaf. Honey or honeycomb would also complement this robust cheese. To drink, pick up a bottle of Banyuls or Muscat de Rivesaltes or open a favorite dessert wine.
Bleu des Causses has limited availability but let’s start asking for it. Look for it at Gourmet & More and Say Cheese in San Francisco; Sunshine Foods in St. Helena; Oliver’s Markets and Molsberry Market in Santa Rosa; Wedge in Sacramento; and Whole Foods Honolulu.

Endive Salad
with Red Grapes, Pecans and Blue Cheese

Add some red endive or radicchio to make an even prettier salad than the one pictured. Adapted from The Cheese Course.

Endive Salad
  • 3 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, or more as needed
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 endives
  • 1 bunch (about 6 ounces) watercress, thick stems removed
  • 1/2 cup pecans, toasted and broken up by hand
  • 1/3 pound seedless red grapes, halved
  • 3 to 4 ounces Bleu des Causses or other blue cheese

 In a small bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, wine vinegar, shallot, and salt and pepper to taste. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the shallot flavor to mellow. Taste and adjust the balance as needed.
Halve the endives lengthwise and remove the core. Slice crosswise at 1-inch intervals.
In a large salad bowl, combine the endive, watercress, pecans and grapes. Add enough of the dressing to coat the greens lightly; you may not need it all. Add the cheese, crumbling it by hand. Toss gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately.
Serves 4