'Blue-brain’ cheese: is this the mouldiest cheese in Britain?

When young, this fungus-coated cheese tastes fruity and mellow. At six months’ old, however, it looks ready to walk

Some years ago, a family of cheesemakers in the hills outside Bern, in west-central Switzerland, were making a batch of cow’s cheese. As per tradition, they had shaped the cheese into fist-size balls and left it to mature in a damp cave. They then forgot about it. Some weeks later, they found it, covered in a thin layer of green-blue mould. Most people would have thrown it away.

Like Play-Doh, penicillin or babies conceived while using the rhythm method, some of the best things in life are created by accident. Mark Twain claimed accident was “the greatest of all inventors” – proof that not everything good needs to have been thoroughly mapped out. And then there’s this cheese ...

The cheerily named blue-brain cheese – so-called because of the cerebrum-like ridges and grooves the mould creates while festering in cool, damp conditions – is sold by artisan vendors Jumi at Borough Market in London. Here, each cheese is kept in its own box within a glass-fronted dresser, chilled to 5C. The overall effect is rather striking: the stack of cheeses resemble small mammalian brains at various stages of decay. You can’t keep the cheese in the fridge because it will go off, says Jumi manager Marcello Tomi. Looking at the cabinet, however, I can’t help but wonder if that ship has sailed.

A no-brainer?
A no-brainer? Photograph: Jumi Cheese

Jumi was founded by two friends, Jürg Wyss (Ju) and Mike Glauser (mi), and their cheese comes from a family of cheesemakers, five generations old, based in the Emmental valley. They use simmental cattle, a breed indigenous to the region. The blue-brain variety is one of the mouldiest cheeses you can buy in the UK.

I follow Tomi’s suggestion for eating the cheese: on bread with a cold chardonnay (rather than, say, fava beans and a nice chianti). The youngest cheese is a couple of weeks old and has 1mm of blue-green mould. It tastes fruity and mellow, with a sharp, welcome twang. At a few months old, the mould has deepened and this fruitiness has veered surprisingly into a mellow, burning flavour – almost spicy. By six months, though, the mould is 1cm thick, as black as a doll’s eye and the whole thing looks ready to walk. I’m not sure who wanted to eat who more.

This is a cheese aimed at macho eaters and enthusiasts, able to cater to a lads’ night out and Frasier Crane. It might seem to be verging on gross-out gimmickry – and it certainly ties into a trend for “ugly food” – but it is also rooted in family, history and flavour. So, a thumbs up from me. Provided you can get past the optics.


Morwenna Ferrier

The GuardianTramp

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