When Did Bleu Cheese Turn Blue?
The Associated Press recently released some updates to its Stylebook, which journalists and others use as guidelines for writing.
Among the updates was the listing of blue cheese as being preferred to bleu cheese.
It surprised me a little, because something looks wrong to me about “blue cheese.”
Then I did a Google search and got an even bigger surprise: apparently, most of the world is at least one step ahead of the AP (and me) on this issue. A Google search for “bleu cheese” was automatically switched to a search for “blue cheese,” and there were many listings.
Since it’s something we hear more than we see, unless we’re looking at a menu — and I swear I would have noticed if a menu listed it as blue because it would have jumped out at me — I decided to Google something I knew spelled it the French way: salad dressing.
Lo and behold, even Kraft Foods let me down.
For the record, let me quote the origin of the term from Wikipedia:
Blue cheese is a general classification of cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, or goat’s milk cheeses that have had cultures of the Mould Penicillium added so that the final product is spotted or veined throughout with blue, blue-grey or blue-green mould, blue-brown and carries a distinct smell, either from that or various specially cultivated bacteria. Some blue cheeses are injected with spores before the curds form and others have spores mixed in with the curds after they form. Blue cheeses are typically aged in a temperature-controlled environment such as a cave. Blue cheese can be eaten by itself or can be spread, crumbled or melted into or over foods.
So if the whole focus for the term is the blue coloring of the mold cultures — which wouldn’t really make me want to run right out and buy some of this stuff if I’d never tasted it before — then that leaves a very important question: where’d the whole bleu thing come from?
Well, one could blame the French, but that wouldn’t necessarily be accurate. Bleu, after all, is the French form of blue, and has been used since 1890 in the name of various forms of French blue cheeses, based on the French fromage bleu, and marketed in Britain and the United States, Etymonline.com says.
But notice that year? “Bleu Cheese” was the term coined in 1890.
Grammarphobia.com found a listing of “blue cheese” that dates back more than a century before the “Frenchified” version:
The earliest example of the phrase “blue cheese” in the Oxford English Dictionary is from an Aug. 3, 1787, entry in The Torrington Diaries, an account of John Byng Torrington’s travels in England and Wales.
Contrary to the Online Etymology Dictionary’s listing, Grammarphobia reports the earliest version of “bleu cheese” it could find was from 1940.
That means that we were calling the stuff “blue cheese” before someone decided to try to get fancy and change it to the French spelling. It was probably the same people who insist on spelling theater as “theatre.”
Don’t you just want to smack them?
So be sure to spell your cheese like the color — the American version of the color, not the French one.
It’ll make the Associated Press so proud!