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Blue Cheese Origins

The legend of how blue cheese was discovered — a young man hiding a cheese snack in a Roquefort cave to pursue a pretty woman and returning to find blue cheese — might not be quite right, writes Linh Anh Cat at Forbes. Instead, she reports, a new genetic analysis suggests slightly different strains of the blue cheese mold Penicillium roqueforti are used to make blue and Roquefort cheese.

A team of French researchers sequenced the genomes of 34 P. roqueforti strains, including 17 strains isolated from blue cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola, and Stilton and 17 strains isolated from non-cheese sources like spoiled food or lumber. As they report in a preprint at BioRxiv, the researchers uncovered four P. roqueforti genetic clusters, two of which were dominated by cheese strains. The cheese clusters, the researchers note, had lower levels of genetic diversity, with one having even lower diversity than the other

Based on that and additional analyses, the researchers found that the Roquefort cheese-associated strains likely arose earlier through a weaker domestication event than the other cheese-linked strains, which the researchers found to have better fitness for modern cheese-making techniques.