Cheese Twins Blog
Stink, like spice, attracts some and deters others, but there is a middle ground, where a little knowledge may tip the scales. Check out our FAQ below!
What is a soft washed-rind cheese
A soft washed-rind cheese is “soft” thanks to its high moisture content. “Washed-rind” refers to practice of washing the rind as the cheese ages.
What is the wash solution made of?
The wash solution can be brine, beer, spirits, wine or grape must. Brines can be lightly salted or fully saturated; alcoholic solutions can be diluted or used straight.
How often is the cheese washed
The frequency of washing varies according to how quickly the rind dries out, which normally slows down as the cheese ages. The goal is to maintain a supple, thin rind that is slightly tacky and homogenous in color and texture.
What makes the rind so stinky?
Waves of yeast and bacteria colonize the rind and give the cheese its characteristic color and pungency.
Can I wash it after I buy it?
Yes, you can. But get ready for some extra funk. Finding the right amount of ventilation without drying out the cheese will be your biggest challenge. Better to buy it ripe and eat it immediately.
What should the rind look like when I buy it?
The texture of the rind ought to be dry, but can be slightly tacky. The French like to finish their soft washed-rind cheeses in cold storage; refrigeration has a drying effect, which, along with the cold, slows down the maturation of the cheese.
What should the paste look like?
The texture of the paste ought to be creamy, but it can range from tender and elastic to spreadable, resembling soft butter.
What are the most common defects?
Bitterness and spicy-ness are the most common defects. These are often accompanied by a strong odor of ammonia. Grainy rind is another one. If this is the case, tell your cheesemonger and exchange it for one slightly more fresh.
When is the best time of year to eat soft washed rind cheeses?
Unlike firm alpine cheeses (which are also washed), the high moisture content predisposes these cheeses to ripen quickly. The best way to slow them down is to keep them cool. That’s why they were originally made in the Fall and Winter, when cool ambient temperatures allow for slow, even ripening. But with the advent of refrigeration, these stinkers can be enjoyed anytime. In the summertime, they are my favorite for topping burgers or grilled cheese sandwiches. In the Winter time, I melt them over potatoes. or eat them fresh with a slice of apple.
What flavors are typical of a soft-washed rind cheese?
These cheeses can be rich, heavy, meaty, and brothy. They can easily be balanced by a rustic baguette, a slice of apple, or even a late harvest wine, in some cases.
Seasonality is everything in today's farm to table world, and winter is the season of washed rind cheeses.
Washed rind cheeses are similar to bloomy rind cheeses such as brie or camembert, except that they are washed during the aging process, often with a salt brine or other solution such as beer, wine or spirits. As a result, the rind acquires a characteristic orangish-tawny color and funk flavors, which can range from savory and mild to, well, downright funky. Meunster and Tallegio are classic washed rind cheeses.
spotlight: Upland cheese co's rush Creek
One could argue that the King of mid-western American artisan washed rind cheeses is Uplands Cheese Company's Rush Creek, a pungent cow's milk cheese from Wisconsin that is modeled on the French Vacherin Mont d'Or.
Rush Creek is a seasonal cheese made exclusively from autumn milk, when the cows are switching from a diet of fresh sumer grasses to hay. This change in diet increases the fat content of the milk, imparting in the final cheese a decadent, unmatched richness. Repeated washing of the rind enhances the woody flavors from the spruce bark and gives the rind a distinctive meatyness.
How to eat it
Not everybody can handle the funk of a washed rind cheese, but have no fear, you can still enjoy them! Melting washed rind cheeses and incorporating them into food filters out the funk, transmitting only the prized flavors.
This Christmas, my wife caramelized onions (a perfect pairing with the woody, roasted meaty flavors of a washed rind cheese) and blended them with Rush Creek and roast potatoes. My mother, who can't stand stinky cheeses and refused to even approach the cheese on its own, loved the dish and I was forced to cede to her some of my own share.
Michael & Charlie Kalish are international cheese experts and winners of Season 7 of Food Network's Great Food Truck Race.