Listeria monocytogenes and List. innocua were isolated from commercial soft ripened and blue-veined cheeses manufactured in France, mainly from Brie cheese made from unpasteurized milk. Five isolates were List. monocytogenes serotype 1/2 and two were List. innocua. Examination of Bleu d'Auvergne cheese with the cryoscanning electron microscope showed that many conidia spores were present in the blue veins in close contact with the cheese surface. There were few conidia spores in the Brie, mostly on the outside of the cheese but not in contact with the surface. High concentrations of free dodecanoic (lauric) acid (1·77–2·50 g/kg cheese) and tetradecanoic (myristic) acid (2·54–6·38 g/kg cheese) were found in the veins of the blue cheese, but concentrations in the white regions were much lower. Free lauric and myristic acids were not detected in the Brie cheeses. There was no difference in the overall fatty acid composition of the fat in the surface ripened and blue-veined cheeses, although higher concentrations of free medium-chain fatty acids were found in a blue cheese compared with a surface ripened cheese. The pH and fat content were higher in regions with obvious fungal growth, the blue veins of Fourme d'Ambert and the rind of Brie. Free lauric acid dissolved in butteroil inhibited multiplication in broth at pH 7·0 of a test strain of List. monocytogenes isolated from Bleu d'Auvergne. Some inhibition was seen with hexanoic, octanoic, decanoic and tetradecanoic acids. We suggest that the presence of localized concentrations of free medium-chain fatty acids (dissolved in the fat) in the blue veins of blue mould ripened cheese could act as natural preservatives and inhibit the growth of listerias in conditions where (if present), one would otherwise expect them to grow.