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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In full bloom: Exploring bloomy rind cheeses

click to enlarge WIKIMEDIA

Cheese is basically three ingredients: Milk, salt and rennet. Milk, of course, is the main requirement. Salt brings out flavor and moisture while rennet separates the proteins from the whey. If that's the case, how can there be so many different types of cheese?

Like wine, geographical location plays a major role in the flavor and type of cheese. Camembert and Brie come from largely populated areas, and the cheese makers were able to sell their cheeses at market on a weekly basis. Cheddar and Gruyère originated in rural areas where cheeses had to be able to withstand long aging periods and travel great distances to reach markets.

The introduction of mold causes the cheese to do different things. One type of mold used in cheese production is penicillium candidum. This is the mold that's used on cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill. The candidum is either introduced into the curds during production or sprayed on the exterior after the cheese has been shaped. In most artisan productions, the candidum is introduced during production.

After these cheeses have been shaped (usually in small 1-inch thick or so rounds) and given the optimum temperature and humidity, the candidum will begin to grow. In a few days the cheese will have a beautiful velvety or "bloomy" rind. At this point, the cheese is still fresh and the texture is still relatively firm and flaky. Think about that fresh goat cheese that comes in a log — that's the texture of a fresh bloomy rind cheese. However, give the candidum a few weeks and that'll change.

The candidum begins to grow and needs to eat to live. So the mold begins to break down the proteins in the cheese from the outside in. The candidum leaves a path of creaminess as it moves through the cheese. If you cut open a bloomy rind cheese before it is completely ripe you'll notice it's creamy around the edge but still slightly firm in the center. It'll still taste good, but for optimum flavor try to pick out one that is ripe and ready to eat.

Once the candidum has made its way all the through the cheese, it's run it's course and the cheese begins to deteriorate. This is when the rind begins to turn reddish brown and starts cracking and giving off that horrible ammonia smell. This poor cheese is dying. You don't want it.

That ammonia smell, by the way, can also be a result of being wrapped up way to long. Candidum, like us, needs food and air to survive. Sometimes the offending odor will dissipate with a little breathing time on the counter.

Flavor profiles of bloomy cheeses will typically be rich, milky to buttery with an earthy mushroom-like flavor. So if you like Brie or Camembert, get out and look for other cheeses with white fuzzy "bloomy" rinds. You just might find your new favorite cheese.

Cheese of the month: Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill
Pasteurized double cream cow's milk (with a bloomy rind). Mild and decadent with notes of fresh milk and butter.

Tim is a former cop who now hangs out behind the cheese counter at Star Provisions, where he's the cheese & specialty buyer.

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