The latest installment of Cheese 101 comes from Karen, our Morris Plains Cheese Lead!
Why is it that nobody ever talks about the rind of their cheese? Most people cut around it and discard it without pondering its true function or the role it plays in the taste of the cheese they are about to enjoy. Permit us to enlighten you a bit.
There are three basic categories of cheese rinds in the world today. Most cheeses fit into one category; however rind styles can be combined to create different outcomes as well.
The first and most recognizable rinds we see, the bloomy rinds, are those of the Brie and Camembert cheeses. These beautiful, silky white, sometimes even “fuzzy” exteriors play an important role in the ripening of the cheese itself. Cheese makers apply a mold called Penicillium Candidum to the exterior of the wheel. The mold then grows or “Blooms” and begins to ripen the cheese from the outside inwards, but it also protects the cheese itself against other microorganisms from the outside environment. These rinds are edible and usually do not have much flavor.
Natural rind cheeses are simply: cheeses that are molded and left to age as is, without any additional mold spores or washing. As all cheeses age they naturally lose moisture. The outer edges will
lose more than the interior. Parmesan is a common example of a natural rind cheese. The outer edge of a Parmesan wheel is very hard and difficult to cut through. It is not usually eaten, however it can be used to flavor soups, so don’t toss it, use it!
The third category and most challenging for many cheese novices in the U.S. is the washed rind category. If you take a look into any cheese shop’s case you’ll most likely see some cheeses that are orange or pinkish in color, some are even a little moldy on the outside (find a piece of Taleggio). Many of these cheeses have a very prominent odor that may discourage you from ever bringing them home. Washed rind cheeses commonly require a larger amount of attention on the personal level as opposed to the other rind types. They are bathed or submerged in a liquid while they age. Sometimes they get daily baths, other times weekly, depending on the type of cheese. Usually the liquid is a salty brine solution but alcohols like beers, wines, and even hard liquors are frequently used as well. Washing these cheeses keeps the moisture level high on the inside and outside, promoting certain mold growths (B Candidum) that influence the flavor of the cheese. Many washed rind cheeses taste a bit saltier than other cheeses. Common washed rind, affectionately called stinky cheeses, include Chimay (bathed in Chimay beer), Limburger, and Epoisses. The biggest hurdle of the “stinkies” is getting past the pungent odor, which usually bears little resemblance to the taste of the cheese itself. So plug your nose and dig in!