Bayley Hazen Blue is one of the most beloved cheeses in our collection.
It is often referred to as a Gateway Blue—even folks who are apprehensive about blue cheese as a rule are charmed by Bayley’s fudgy melt-in-your-mouth texture, and while blue cheese has a reputation for being assertive, Bayley is buttery and well-balanced.
That balance is the result of our careful ripening process, during which fats and proteins are gradually broken down by flavor-producing bacteria. As each wheel of Bayley ages, these flavors develop and deepen, and by the time a batch is ready to leave the vault, its profile has gained remarkable complexity due to the layered expression of these flavors.
Mateo maintains that Bayley Hazen Blue is our most complicated cheese to make—as he puts it, “so many things have to go just right” for it to achieve its full potential. Much of this challenge can be chalked up to the fact that Bayley is a raw-milk cheese: “the microbial ecology of raw milk is the sum of the practices on the farm,” says Mateo, which means that unlike cheeses made with standardized milk, Bayley Hazen Blue’s deliciousness is a direct result of our microbe management: “we aren’t just milking cows, we’re building a farming system that brings a diversity of microflora to our raw milk. There is a linear correlation between microbial diversity and complexity of flavor.”
This is why traditional, raw milk cheeses are especially flavorful, and especially difficult to get right. Despite this, Bayley is consistently delicious, which is a testament to both the quality of our milk and the skill of our cheesemakers. Our creamery team produces a new batch of Bayley nearly daily, and due to the familiarity bred by this frequency, our Bayley makers are incredibly tuned in to our milk—so we decided to throw them a new challenge:
What if we made Bayley relying exclusively on the use of native flora?
…and what does that even mean?
Most cheese in the U.S. is made using commercially-produced cultures. There are many reasons why this is the case, but one of the biggest factors is simply that cheesemakers are driven to produce a consistently delicious product. And when your main ingredient, milk, is already an ever-changing variable, it just makes sense to use a standardized set of cultures with proven results in order to achieve that goal. It’s up to each individual cheesemaker to create their own cocktail of commercial cultures to yield the desired textures and flavors for their cheeses, which requires tremendous skill and experience, but at the end of the day, we are all essentially tinkering with the same basic ingredients.
With the confidence of our creamery and our lab team on board, we decided to take the plunge and begin the long and tedious process of creating our own indigenous culture blend. Growing our cultures in-house would allow us capture and amplify those complex flavors we knew were coming from the carefully-cultivated microbial ecology of our milk. In order to do this, we had to isolate and test the viability of various potentially beneficial strains of bacteria from our raw milk, determine which ones would work best, and then successfully grow those strains selectively in our lab.
Bayley gets its striking marbled blue-green veining from a specific strain of blue mold called Penicillium Roqueforti, which we usually add to our milk in liquid form. It is only once the wheels have been hand-spiked, allowing oxygen to enter the interior of the cheese, that P. Roqueforti is able to flourish.
Historically, in the production of French favorite Roquefort (P. Roqueforti’s namesake), cheesemakers would leave loaves of bread in the caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon where they would be naturally inoculated and consumed with ambient molds. They would then pulverize this blue mass and use it to inoculate their cheese.
We wanted to stick with tradition, so we had Elmore Mountain Bread bake us a special loaf of rye just for this purpose. We stuck it in the back of our Bayley vault and waited patiently; once its transformation was complete, we were able to harvest seven strains of ambient P. Roqueforti from our cave-aged loaf to make cheese with.
Months later, after much trial and error, we are able to share our remarkable results with you: Native Flora Bayley Hazen Blue, made with starters harvested from our raw milk & P. Roqueforti grown in our own caves.
Think of it as the sourdough of cheese.
By closing this loop and producing our own cheesemaking cultures, we have succeeded in making a version of Bayley Hazen Blue that is the truest manifestation, to date, of our trademark Taste of Place.
And this is just the beginning–as Mateo likes to say, “cheesemaking is a discovery, not an invention.” Humans have been making cheese for thousands of years, yet cheesemakers all over the world continue to innovate within established standards and techniques. Even our less successful experiments in the early stages of this project have deepened our comprehension of cheese on a fundamental level, and this newfound understanding can only make us better.
Try it for yourself: order a wedge of classic Bayley Hazen Blue and a wedge of Native Bayley so you can set up your very own side-by-side comparison–taste the truth of terroir!