Fun Fact Friday: Mmm… Mold!

Five things you need to know about our furry, fungal, fantastic friend

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Cheese wheels covered in Mucor, more commonly known as “cat fur” mold. Saint-Nectaire is one famous cheese that flaunts this fuzzy fungus. Picture courtesy of Le Cheese Geek.

Have you ever played that game where you and your friends choose one thing that represents each person in your group? Because I have. And what did my friends choose for me? Fun facts.

Okay, it’s not exactly a “thing,” but it is certainly my thing. I love fun facts! So, with that in mind, I’m launching a new series – Fun Fact Fridays.

For the first edition, let’s dive into facts about one of my favorite food groups: MOLD!

Yes, mold is food! Delicious food. And if you like cheese, then you’ve probably already gotten your fungal fill. Cheeses are one big moldy mess. The great kind of mess.

Now, some cheeses are bacterial babes, but that’s a topic for another day. Today, we’re here to learn about our moldy mamas.

1 – Mold is edible!

Well, some types, and it’s these types that give many cheeses their distinctive flavors.

Those sexy chunks of blue inside a Roquefort or Gorgonzola? That’s Penicillium roqueforti, or, less often, Penicillium glaucum, and it’s what gives blue cheeses their signature bite.

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See that gooey edge? That’s where the mold on the rind has eaten its way into the cheese. You want to cut this into pie slices from edge to center so you get the different flavors in each part. 

What about that seductive white rind on a wheel of Camembert or Brie? That’s Penicillium camemberti, which lends those cheeses their musky, mushroomy flavor. And because the mold is chilling on the rind, that’s where you’ll find the most flavor. Which is precisely why people like me consider the rind the best part to eat.

2 – But not all mold!

Remember when I said some types of of mold are edible? That’s one of those really fun and really important facts. Because some molds aren’t edible. Some are downright dangerous.

Cheese makers cultivate the right types of mold through selective harvesting, while carefully controlling factors like humidity and temperature that determine mold growth.

If your cheese has been hanging out in the fridge too long and becomes its own fuzzy science experiment, take caution.

If it’s a soft cheese, the mold is likely to have penetrated the whole lot and it’s best to throw it out.

If it’s a hard cheese, you’re in luck. Cut off the moldy part and enjoy what’s left.

3 – Eating mold will make you live forever

Okay, maybe not forever. But researchers have found that Penicillium roqueforti is an anti-inflammatory that encourages cardiovascular health, reduces joint pain, and helps the skin. Scientists think that may be one reason why the French are some of the healthiest people in the world.  They suspect red wine is a factor, too. God bless science. 

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Camembert and Brie are two of many bloomy rind cheeses aged with Penicillium camemberti.

4 – Penicillium v Penicillin

Penicillium comes from the same cultures as the mold used for penicillin, but it’s safe to eat for people with penicillin allergies.

Side note here: I couldn’t find a reliable online source to back me up on this one. But every cheese expert I know will tell you the same.

I did find one source that claims you shouldn’t eat moldy cheese while taking penicillin, or it could make the medicine ineffective. I hadn’t heard that before. Any doctors in the room to give us the lowdown?

5 – We owe moldy cheese to love

How did anyone think to eat mold in the first place??? Legend has it that a sheep herder near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in the French southwest snuck into a shady cave to eat his lunch. But wouldn’t you know that just then his lady love walked by and he went following along, leaving his rye bread and milk behind. Love, what are you gonna do, right?

When those two lovebirds finished up three days later, our good ol’ sheep herder returned to find the bread was so covered in mold that it had spread to his milk, which by that point was less milk and more, you know, cheese.

Our poor berger didn’t have anything else to eat, so he dove in. He didn’t die, and it tasted great! Voilà, moldy cheese was born. (FYI, Italians tell the same story about the invention of Gorgonzola, but in that story the lover is gone ten days, ‘cuz Italy.)

Today, many cheese makers still produce Roquefort and other blues by harvesting mold on bread.

Now go forth with these fungal facts and enjoy all the moldy cheese in sight! And stay tuned for the next episode of Friday Fun Facts.

Cheers – or should I say, Cheese!

 

 

 

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