One of the things that expats and visitors, and even some locals that I know, tend to decry here is the lack of good cheeses. It’s not that they don’t exist, but it seems that too many places simply serve up the lowest common denominator, what here are called quesos de maquina or quesos de barra – industrial sorts of mass-produced cheeses. So I’ve set out to find the good stuff and that will obviously take some time and probably many posts. I thought I’d start with one of my favorite categories, blue cheeses. And away we go… along with a little appropriate “Argentine Blues” music, should you care to indulge.
Most people here refer to all blue cheeses as “Roquefort”, and historically that’s what they were called in Argentina. However, a suit brought by producers of true Roquefort in France, roughly 15 years ago, resulted in a court decision and a national law that prohibits labeling cheeses with that moniker and pretty much everything is now simply labeled queso azúl, or “blue cheese”. Roquefort has, after all, been a protected designation for just a few years – since the Parliament of Toulouse declared it to be so back on, oh, August 31, 1666 (a mere 348 year stretch), and reconfirmed when France created its official appellation system on June 26, 1925.
Most of this round of tasting were the more “commercial” brands, the ubiquitous cheeses found in supermarkets and some of the gourmet food shop chains. More “artesanal” cheeses coming up in the next round. Prices listed are in Argentine pesos per kilo at the time of tasting, along with date and place of purchase. Photos of the cheeses tasted are by me, the “whole cheese” photos of the packaging are lifted from the individual companies’ websites.
Bavaria Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2.5kg wheels, in Santa Fé, by Milkaut S.A., a division of the French company Bongrain (see below, Santa Rosa). Foil wrapped, no rind. Very white. The mold doesn’t appear to be in injection lines, but is rather scattered throughout, and the cheese is pocked with cavities – the mold is also a pale to medium grey-green color. Aromas of fresh cream, a touch of brininess, and what almost seems like a faint stone fruit essence, like an underripe peach. The texture is soft and crumbly. The cheese is a bit salty upfront with a hit of raw walnut. It’s relatively mild, with a creamy finish. Great choice for a salad blue. 186 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Disco).
Emperador Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in both 2 and 4kg wheels by Grupo Savaz, in the city of Ucacha, province of Córdoba. Foil wrapped, no rind. Off-white, more or less popcorn colored, well mottled throughout with a deep blue-green mold. Browned butter and a hint of spiciness, like chilies, on the nose. Semi-hard, crumbly texture, with a hint of graininess. Mildly salty upfront with a bit of spice, browned butter nuttiness in the mid-palate continuing onto the finish. Great cheese for a cheeseboard – not too strong, not too mild. 180 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Mykonos).
Ilolay Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in 2.5kg wheels, aged 60-90 days, by Alfredo Williner, S.A., in the city of Rafaela, Santa Fé province. Foil wrapped, no rind. Off-white, bordering on yellowish, medium green mold well distributed throughout. Aromas of sour cream and grass. Semi-hard, somewhat crumbly texture. Hints of picante on the palate, medium salty, mildly herbal on the finish. Good choice for slicing on a sandwich, or on a pizza. 138 pesos/kg, August 2014 (El Valle del Queso).
Magnasco Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in the city of Runciman, Santa Fé province – minimal info, Magnasco doesn’t even list the cheese on their website. Foil wrapped, no rind. Bright shiny white with mottled deep blue green mold starting almost 2cm in from the edge – and the only cheese I’ve seen sliced in half rounds rather than wedges. Spicy, herbal aroma. Semi-hard, dense texture. Extremely salty upfront and continuing through – this is the saltiest blue I think I’ve ever had. Sharp vinegary notes as well that stayed with us until well after the cheese was set aside. There was little that I liked about this blue. 118 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Campo Austral).
La Quesera Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2.3kg wheels, from Cassini y Cesaratto, in Santa Fé province. Foil wrapped, no rind. Off-white, almost a popcorn color, vertical stripes of mold injection, deep blue green. Buttery, almost nutty aroma with green herbs. Soft, creamy texture. The butter flavor is very prominent. Fairly mild with just a short hit of sharpness in the mid-palate and a very green herb and butter finish. Good cheese for melting into sauces. Also available in whipped form for spreading in 1kg and 4kg tubs. 142 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Paraiso).
Sancor Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2.25kg wheels and in mini 250gm wheels, in Santa Fé and Córdoba. Foil wrapped, no rind. Off white with yellowish tinges, well-veined with a dark blue-green mold, concentrated more towards the center of the wheels. Interesting aroma, almost meaty in character, like a beef extract, or perhaps even a touch of vegemite or marmite. Semi-hard and a bit crumbly. Quite salty upfront with a fair amount of sharpness in the mid-palate, the flavor is odd with notes of old butter and a weird hint of pool-water chlorine, the latter particularly evident on the finish. Overall not well balanced and a bit industrial tasting. 174 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Disco).
San Ignacio Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2.2kg wheels, matured 45 days, in Rosario, also sold in prepackaged 180gm slices. Foil wrapped, no rind. Creamy white with a pale grey-green mold, well distributed throughout the cheese. Butter and a hint of something almost chili-like on the nose. Soft, creamy texture. Very subtle upfront flavor, slightly herbal and buttery, little salt and quite mild, with a very pleasant creamy finish. Great melting cheese for a delicate blue cheese flavored sauce – we use this one to make our blue cheese mousse. 117 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Disco).
Santa Rosa Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2.6kg wheels, matured 60 days, in Santa Fé, by Milkaut S.A., a division of the French company Bongrain (see above, Bavaria). Foil wrapped, no rind. Just barely off-white, vertical stripes of mold injection, deep blue green. Fresh milk, grassy aroma. Semi-hard texture. Intense grassy, green herb flavor, toasted hazelnut, lightly salted. Mild sharpness in the mid-palate, lovely nutty finish. A perfect little slab to lay atop a grilled steak, or a milder option on a cheese board. 169 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Disco).
Veronica Queso Azúl – elaborated using Penicillium roqueforti, produced in roughly 2kg wheels, matured 60 days, in Córdoba. Foil wrapped, no rind. Off-white, vertical stripes of mold injection, deep blue green. Cream, toasted almond, green leaves on the nose. Creamy, soft texture. Lightly salty, buttery flavor with some toasted almond notes and a bit of herbaceousness, slightly vinegary finish – the outer surface has an odd, slightly bitter plastic note. Good melting cheese though we’d recommend cutting off the outer surface. 200 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Armesto).
Two cheeses found at Piccolo Positano, a fiambreria on Vicente Lopez here in Recoleta – all they would tell me about the two was that they’re “artisan cheeses from Tandil” in the south of Buenos Aires province. They were not only lacking in any additional info, but actually pretty rude about everything and had I not already paid for the cheese I’d have just walked away, mission or not. I tried calling for the owner and stopping back to see if I could catch him in, since he’s apparently the only one who knows the cheeses. All that resulted was a stream of insults from the woman at the counter – accusing me of being a thief (apparently her thought was that I was going to open a competition cheese shop), and crazy (because there’s no reason any sane human being would want to know this information), and, let’s just say a bit more. Needless to say they’ve lost any possibility of me as a customer. Thankfully given that, neither cheese was better than just okay.
Azúl Nacional – Creamy white with well mottled deep blue-green mold centered in the cheese – there’s a roughly 1-2 cm layer around the center with no veining. Aroma of sweat socks and something slightly spicy, almost like allspice. Semi-hard, crumbly. More pleasant on the palate with spice, toasted almond and slightly burnt butter notes. 179 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Piccolo Positano).
Gorgonzola Nacional – Off-white with stripes of deep green mold. Lovely aroma of toasted flour and brown butter, almost like a well developed roux. Semi-hard, crumbly. Dense and creamy with strong toasted notes and a whole lot of salt, particularly in the mid-palate. A bit harsh on the finish. I generally think of Gorgonzola as the mildest of the “big three” (roquefort, gorgonzola, stilton), this one is surprisingly strong. 250 pesos/kg, August 2014 (Piccolo Positano).