When people think of cheese, one of the first things that come to mind other than its undeniable sinful goodness, is the smell. When customers ask me for something funky and stinky, the first thing I reach for is a member of the washed rind family. A soft ripened cheese similar in texture to the Bloomy rinds that I talked about in April, washed rind cheeses are the boldest and stinkiest.
Most of the washed rinds were developed in monasteries hundreds of years ago. Some theories suggest that the bold, meaty cheeses were developed to provide a substitute for meat when meat was either forbidden or scarce. As many of you know, monasteries are also famous for making beer. I believe that washed rinds were developed, like so many things, out of people using what they had on hand.
Like the bloomy cheeses, washed rinds are not cooked or pressed. The curd are ladled directly into the form and allowed to drain under their own weight. Then the cheese maker or Affineur (one that ages cheese) begins the washing process. This can be done with a simple salt brine, beer, wine, spirits or a combination. This process causes bacteria to develop on the exterior of the cheese. The bacteria causes the cheese to develop a thin, pinkish/red rind that's somewhat sticky and omits a pungent odor, which I've heard described as the smell of God's feet.
The cheese ripens for anywhere from four to six weeks, and receives a daily bath in whatever elixir the cheese maker has chosen. During this time the interior of the cheese is getting softer and softer due to the molds and bacteria breaking down the cheese from the outside inward, until it's a soft gooey wonderful mess. Like Bloomy rind cheeses, the flavor of washed rinds all have similar profiles: bold, pungent and meaty.
Some of my favorite washed rinds are Winnimere, Epoisses, and Taleggio.
So when you're in the cheese shop trying to decide and you see that pinkish/red rind, you know you're looking at a washed rind cheese. Don't let the smell scare you away. Try them this summer with crisp fruity Riesling or a bright citric Hefeweizen.
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