Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Blue Swoon

I recently switched over to using blue cheese salad dressing exclusively. For years I’ve been pretty much anti blue cheese in every form. It was too strong for me, and the idea that it was mold that gave it its character just ooked me out.

That I actually came to like it was a somewhat convoluted process. I had a tomato recipe from Bon Appetit that I made for our Christmas Eve dinner last year. Plum tomatoes get cut in half, seeded, and drained for 15 minutes. Then you toss them with chopped rosemary, minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and let them sit for another 15 minutes. They get roasted at 375 for about 65 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, the cheese (which was supposed to be Stilton—this was, after all, a Christmas recipe) gets crumbled and scattered over them, where it melts a little.

The question of why I was willing to make a recipe that called for Stilton cheese when I wasn’t a fan of blue cheese in the first place is a hard one to answer. Food photography can be very seductive, and they were being served with a Rosemary-and-Pepper Standing Rib Roast with Two-Mushroom Pan Sauce we were making, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and make the tomatoes. The worst thing that could happen, I determined, was that I’d hate the blue cheese and scrape it off.

The first time I made the tomatoes, I used Stilton, and they were exceptional, even for a non-blue cheese lover. The next time I made them (because I figured they were the perfect winter vegetable—something a little different, a nice take on tomatoes in which if they weren’t first class summer ones they were still acceptable) I guess we were out of Stilton, but we had this St. Agur that we’d bought at our local grocery store (Central Market, if you’re wondering—a fabulous place with an outstanding selection of cheeses). I used it and was devoted from that minute. I ate the tomatoes for breakfast, much to the disgust of my boss, who didn’t like the smell of the blue cheese. I invested a hefty percentage of my children’s college fund in blue cheese.

The path from tomatoes with blue cheese to blue cheese dressing is a somewhat hazy, twisting one. We needed a salad dressing for a meal, and I happened on a blue cheese dressing in Sara Foster’s Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market that looked passable, and concluded if I could eat blue cheese in tomatoes, why not in salad dressing? It called for mayonnaise, buttermilk, blue cheese, a little white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and chopped chives. It was quick, and sounded like it would fill the need. I didn’t actually use St Agur in the dressing—in the first place, St Agur is one of the wetter, more goopy blue cheeses, and in the second place, I was running out of college tuition money (St Agur goes for about $32 a pound, or $2 an ounce, so in a recipe that called for 4 ounces of blue cheese it seemed a little excessive). We decided the dressing was everything we wanted in a blue cheese dressing, and it’s become a household standard that I now keep in an old spaghetti sauce jar in the refrigerator and replenish regularly.

As with just about every recipe I make more than once, I’ve tinkered with it a little. The original recipe calls for a cup of mayonnaise (I use homemade), plus a quarter of a cup of buttermilk. I find this makes too thick a dressing for us, so I use closer to a half a cup of buttermilk—probably a quarter cup plus two tablespoons, if I really stopped to measure it, and then add a splash more here and there until it reaches the desired thickness. This looks pretty runny when you first combine it, but it firms back up in the fridge, and adding the blue cheese thickens it too.

For blue cheese, I confess I’ve stooped to the Danish Blue crumbles that they sell in little plastic tubs at the grocery store. I’ve tried buying and crumbling my own, but I can’t get the crumbles small enough. Whether this is because I lack experience with crumbling blue cheese, or because I’m buying the wrong kind, I can’t say, but since it’s getting smothered in mayonnaise, I figure the highest quality blue cheese is going to be suffocated anyway. I did once try putting everything in the blender and whizzing it, but the result, while blue cheese flavored, was disappointingly smooth, lacking those little chunks of blue cheese that make blue cheese dressing…well, blue cheese dressing.

As for the remaining ingredients, the recipe calls for a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of chopped chives, salt, and pepper. I use a capful of plain old distilled white vinegar, which I find to be perfectly acceptable. I also left out the chives one time, and then used them the next time, and I was informed that it was actually better without the chives, so the chives have now been deleted from the ingredient list. I use a few grinds of black pepper. Generally the combination of the mayonnaise and the blue cheese is enough salt, but I taste it and might add a quick grind or two of sea salt.

Once it’s done I put it all in the aforementioned old spaghetti sauce jar and keep it in the refrigerator. It’s wonderful on a spinach salad with some bacon, and we use it daily on the salad we always take along to work to accompany whatever else we’re having for lunch.

I’ve now completely about-faced on blue cheese, and love it so much that when my husband and I went out for our anniversary dinner (to a first-class wine bar called Purple), we ordered an appetizer that was slices of Cashel blue cheese, fig jam, crackers, and a wine chosen to accompany it (Joel Gott Zinfandel, 2004). We loved it so much that we sought out a bottle of the wine, picked up some of the cheese, some crackers, and cracked open the jar of fig jam we had in the pantry and recreated the appetizer two weeks later. The dinner that followed was rib eye steaks with a salad with…blue cheese dressing.


Erin said...

thank god you've finally come around. Now go try some roquefort.

TD said...

Oh I'll now eat all of it. Since then I've snarfed down a ton of blue cheese. I think I may be turning into a species of mold, I've eaten so much!

Anonymous said...

The next step is blue cheese and honey! - Isn't Purple fun... it was my birthday dinner last year.

TD said...

Actually, last weekend I bought Wensleydale with Figs & Honey. Wensleydale isn't blue, but it sure was good!