Gorgonzola Cheese: The Authentic Italian Blue Cheese

Gorgonzola Cheese: what is it and how it is produced

We all know Gorgonzola cheese, one of the most popular Italian cheeses, as well as one of the most particular and among the most famous blue cheeses in the world. But if you are reading this article, you are probably interested in learning more about this popular Italian cheese. So, let’s try to answer the most common questions about Gorgonzola: What type of cheese is Gorgonzola? What are the origins of Gorgonzola? How is it produced?

What Is Gorgonzola?

Gorgonzola cheese is a type of blue cheese that originates from Italy. It is made from cow’s milk and named after the town of Gorgonzola in Northern Italy. This cheese is known for its characteristic blue-greenish veins of mold that run throughout its creamy white paste.

Gorgonzola cheese has a rich and tangy flavor with a slightly salty taste. It can range from being crumbly and firm to creamy and spreadable, depending on its age and variety. The cheese is typically aged for 2 to 9 months, during which time the mold cultures develop, giving it its distinctive taste and appearance.

This cheese is versatile and can be enjoyed on its own, crumbled over salads, melted into pasta dishes, or paired with fruits and nuts on a cheese board. Gorgonzola cheese adds a unique depth of flavor to a variety of dishes and is popular among cheese enthusiasts worldwide. 

The History of Gorgonzola Cheese

Establishing an exact date of origin for this renowned and beloved cheese is difficult – some sources indicate it may have originated between the 12th and 15th centuries, while others suggest even earlier.

What is certain is its place of origin, the town of Gorgonzola, from which it derives its name, and that it came about entirely by accident.

In Italian culinary history, many masterpieces were born by mistake or fortunate happenstance. In the case of this Lombardy cheese, the “mistake” is said to have been due to a distracted cheesemaker mixing old rennet with new rennet, creating a product with an unusual appearance, unpleasant odor, streaked with green molds, but with a unique flavor. Rather than being considered a waste to discard, it became a delicacy, first appreciated locally, then centuries later exported worldwide and even awarded the protected designation of origin (DOP) in 1996.

The Mold in Gorgonzola Cheese

The mold found in Gorgonzola cheese, commonly referred to as “blue mold,” belongs to the Penicillium family of molds. Specifically, the species is Penicillium Glaucum. This mold is considered edible and harmless. It is classified as a starter mold, meaning it is intentionally added to foods during the production process. In the case of Gorgonzola, Penicillium Glaucum is used in dairy manufacturing to produce the distinctive blue veins and flavors for which this Italian cheese is known.

The Production Process of Gorgonzola Cheese

As a DOP product, the production of Gorgonzola cheese must strictly adhere to specifications outlined in its designation of origin. Only pasteurized cow’s milk from livestock raised exclusively in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy is used. The cows are raised on natural fodder and without the use of growth hormones.

The fresh milk meets quality specifications for Gorgonzola production upon arrival daily at the milk receiving facility. Laboratory analysis verifies the chemical, microbiological and organoleptic parameters to ensure health and quality for manufacturing. The raw milk is then stored in insulated tanks with temperature control.

The milk is pasteurized and inoculated with the thermophilic lactic acid bacteria Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, as well as spores of the Penicillium Roqueforti mold and various yeasts. These are the sole ingredients in Gorgonzola production.

This first processing phase causes the milk to coagulate, forming curds, and the curds are cut into cubes and drained of excess whey. The curds are then placed into stainless steel molds, establishing the distinctive shape of Gorgonzola cheese.

After 24 hours, the first salting occurs using filtered sea salt from Italy. The cheese enters a controlled temperature chamber of approximately 21°C.

A second salting follows another 24 hours later. Depending on the variety of sweet or spicy, aging times in the chamber vary from two to seven days.

The cheese progresses to initial maturation rooms maintained at 3-5°C. Punctures are made with steel needles to introduce oxygen and develop the marbling characteristic of veins as mold naturally grows. Further salting occurs on the rind.

The length of the aging process determines whether a sweet or spicy variety of Gorgonzola is produced:

  • Sweet Gorgonzola has a soft, creamy texture and a predominantly sweet taste with subtle hints of piquancy. It is aged for 50 to 150 days.
  • Spicy Gorgonzola has a semi-hard consistency and a very strong, pungent flavor profile. A longer aging period of 80 to 270 days is required to produce this variety.

Why Is Gorgonzola Lactose-Free?

In Italy, approximately 50% of the population suffers from lactose intolerance, a percentage that is higher than elsewhere in Europe. As a result, it is important for today’s consumers to understand the composition of the foods they enjoy.

The presence or absence of lactose in foods has become a topic of significant interest. Numerous scientific studies, including research commissioned by the Consortium for the Protection of Gorgonzola Dop Cheese at the Research Center in Lodi, have confirmed that Gorgonzola’s lactose content is well below the regulatory threshold to qualify a cheese as “naturally lactose-free”: <0.1 g/100g.

The reason for this is straightforward. During fermentation in Gorgonzola Dop production, lactic bacteria consume lactose, milk’s characteristic sugar, leaving it virtually absent. This is welcome news for those managing lactose intolerance.

Gorgonzola Cheese: Potential Risks and Benefits

Potential Benefits of Gorgonzola

Gorgonzola cheese, due to its unique triple fermentation process, is lactose-free, making it suitable for those with milk derivative intolerances. Additionally, Gorgonzola provides several important vitamins including B2, B6, and B12, which support nervous and immune system function. It is also gluten-free.

Potential Risks of Gorgonzola

Gorgonzola cheese should be avoided by individuals with compromised immune systems, such as transplant patients or pregnant women, due to the potential risks associated with listeria exposure from mold present in the cheese.

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