Washed Rind Cheeses

 Recently, one of the participants on my cheese course emailed me to say they were thinking of progressing their skills in cheese making by trying some 'Washed Rind Cheese'. This was very timely and fortuitous as I was already writing a guide to making my version of Taleggio (Tallyho); I therefore agreed to put an article on the Website. The Taleggio will follow shortly too.

First of all, what is a Washed Rind Cheese? Sometimes these cheeses are also referred to as smear or surface ripened cheeses.

I have already mentioned Taleggio which is an example of these styles of cheese, hopefully you will have read about it on my website, at least, you will have heard of and tried others I am sure. For example:

Limberger is a brine washed cheese that was originally made in the Limbourg region of Belgium. The aroma of this cheese is often compared to that of body odour (BO) or sweaty feet. The taste and texture however, is a creamy, semi soft, pleasant mild hay or cow byre taste, which isn't surprising because it's a cow's milk cheese. The cheese is very popular in Germany where it is served as part of afternoon tea; it is often paired with rye bread and slices of onion basted in vinaigrette.

Pont l'Eveque is a brine washed cow's milk cheese from Normandy in France. Easily recognised because it is square, it has a smooth creamy, buttery inside; it forms a similar odour to that of very ripe Camembert/Brie a sort of earthy ammonia smell. Probably one of the oldest washed rind cheeses in the world, it develops small holes inside as it matures. It is viewed as a dessert cheese because of its quite sweet taste.

Livarot is from the same region of France as Pont l'Eveque, again, a brine washed cheese which is recognisable by its orange skin and the wrapping of 'sedge grass' used to help the cheese keep its shape. The cheese is another ancient cheese and has become known as the "the Colonel" because the wrapping can look like officer braid on a uniform. The cheese has a pungent earthy aroma, it is runny at room temperature, and it is creamy with small holes when cool and tastes quite strong and slightly spicy.

Reblochon once again is a brine washed cow's milk cheese; I just love this French cheese. As are a lot of French cheeses it is AOC, therefore the milk should come from certain cows, and it must be made in a specific area (Haute-Savoie) in a specific way. Again, it smells quite pungent and threatens the nose of those who are not practiced in the art of eating washed rind cheeses. However, when young the rind has a lovely orange hue, with a gentle young sweetness, but as it matures it forms a white blush and tastes more nutty, lovely.

Epoisses: so far, I have given examples of brine washed cheese, however, there are loads of examples of cheeses that are washed by all sorts of spirits, wine, beer, even honey; Epoisses is such a cheese. This cheese is a soft cow's milk cheese, washed in a local brandy. Again, it is an AOC cheese so must follow strict rules about where the milk comes from, the area it is made and how it is produced. Apparently it smells so strong that it is banned from being carried on French public transport, so it has to be strong. I have no memory of ever having had this cheese, but apparently when young it is smooth and spicy, however, as it ages, it takes on the aroma of 'sweaty socks' and tastes strangely strong and meaty.

So far, I have mentioned predominantly French and other European countries, but fear not fans of British cheese, we have a king among Washed Rind Cheese:

Stinking Bishop, probably most people think the name is given to the cheese as an appropriate description; it is actually named after the pear used to make the Perry that the cheese is soaked and then regularly washed in. It forms a lovely light orange rind, has a light creamy texture and is sweeter than the smell and initial strong taste suggests.

You will have noticed a common theme running through the first part of this article – the aroma of these cheeses.

The aromas of Washed Rind Cheeses are often described as 'earthy', like a 'barn yard', sometimes they are likened to 'stinky feet' or even mildewed clothes or wallpaper, but the flavours of Washed Rind Cheeses are nothing like the aroma – they are so rewarding, complex and tasty with moist and supple textures. Many Washed Rind Cheeses are often mild; they can be sweet and nutty. When selecting a Washed Rind Cheese, the sometimes strong aroma does not indicate a strong flavour; rather, it indicates maturity or ripeness. A Washed Rind Cheese that has no aroma will probably indicate that the cheese has yet to ripen.

There are no real rules to define Washed Rind Cheese other than, they are washed or dressed regularly, they are aromatic, and usually they have an orange or golden rind. When you open up a Washed Rind Cheese you may well find it to be firm and grainy, yet some have a smooth even paste-like texture. Some have air holes, others are oozy and runny inside, but all are delicious. Washed Rind Cheeses may hint to fruity, grassy and other well-balanced flavours. They are typically aged at least two months and have a semi-soft to semi-firm texture. Washed Rind Cheeses are best when served at room temperature.

To make a Washed Rind Cheese, the cheese maker continuously bathes the cheeses using a brine or spirit during the curing process. This process helps prevent a hard rind from forming and also washes away any unwanted mould that may naturally form. The wet, new rind is a very hospitable place for certain beneficial bacteria to take residence, this bacteria is known as Brevibacterium Linens or B-linens for short.  At the same time as the bacteria forms on the skin, it creates a pungent aroma and flavour. This aroma is caused because the bacteria are releasing the sulphur gases in the milk. Thanks to these bacteria, an orangey, sometimes pinkish hue is created on the slightly sticky surface of the cheese.

When making the cheese B-linens can either be introduced at the start of making the cheese – as in Taleggio, or it can be sprayed or brushed on once the cheese comes out of the mould or starts its ripening process.

I use ½ teaspoon of B-linens to a gallon of milk when doing my Washed Rind Cheeses and add it at the same time as introducing the starter; as the cheese matures it works its way to the outside of the cheese to form the rind.

Alternatively, if you are introducing the B-linens to the outside of the cheese after the moulding process, then ½ teaspoon of the B-linens in half a cup of very cool pre boiled water will be sufficient to cover the cheese; then dress the cheese in your chosen way.

Once the cheese has its introduced B-linens, the solution for making Washed Rind Cheese is usually saltwater brine. However, washed Rind Cheese originated in the monasteries of Europe during the Middle Ages. Monks realised that by washing their cheeses with alcohol or beer, they not only protected the cheese from mould, it also prevented cracking of the rind. I don't suppose they were too sad to discover that washing the cheese also created a more pungent flavour which meant it could be substituted for heartier meat dishes during times of religious fasting or times of austerity.

Most cheese recipes will advise on the salinity of the brine that you are required to use to wash the cheese; this is also the same for when the recipe calls for immersion in brine water. The salinity is measured in percentages; however, as I often dry rub my cheeses with salt, I don't always work to exact measurements in my brine. However, for those of you who do, I will include a rough guide at the end of the article. Also, you need to know that some times I include a couple of dashes of malt vinegar in my mix.

When dressing the cheese, I use a variety of approaches dependant on the surface, for example, if the skin is delicate i.e. fresh goats cheese, I will use a strong paper towel sheet rather than cheese cloth which can damage the skin of the cheese, added to this, because of its nature you can change it often and can then throw it away. For stronger rind such as Reblochon, then I would use a small piece of cheese cloth or even a pastry brush. The use of a pastry brush is handy if you have been caught out by mould and it has become quite advanced, it helps remove and smooth the surface, it 'brings the cheese back'. (Figure 1, 2 and 3)

 

Washed Rind Cheeses Fig1

 

Washed Rind Cheeses Fig 2

 

Washed Rind Cheeses Fig 3

Fig 1 Fig 2 Fig 3

      

Because Washed Rind Cheeses have well developed and complex flavours it is often beneficial to ensure accompaniments to the cheese are simple. A fresh piece of crusty bread, fruits or nuts will suffice or perhaps pear chutney will also go down well. I find fuller flavoured cheeses, pair well with medium to full-bodied wines, a good rich white or fruity red, even a brown beer or a very good cider will also go well. These cheeses are typically very pungent in flavour, so as not to contaminate other foods it is best to store them in airtight containers, in the refrigerator. The cheese may be stored in its original wrapper or in waxed paper, but what ever you do, you will be lucky to not have what we (Jan and I) call "a French Fridge".

Finally, as a warning, be careful where you store these cheeses in your 'cave' or ripening box; keep them away from your other maturing cheeses because, as they mature, the bacteria will jump across to the other cheeses at the blink of an eye.

 

Saline Chart: Percentages.

Simple Brine, this is 2% salinity which is the usual percentage used for Washed Rind Cheese; made by cooling adding 1½ teaspoons to a cup of boiled water which has been cooled to 55%.

Light Brine, this is 10% salinity, 12 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of water. Can be used to rest Mozzarella in or to impart a light flavour.

Medium Brine, this is 15% solution, 19 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of water. A pickling brine, it can be used to rest cheeses in, such as Halloumi or Feta can be placed in after being in a saturated Brine.

Medium –Heavy Brine, 20% solution, 26 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of water. Used to preserve cheese or add flavour.

Near-Saturated, 22% salinity, 28 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of water, this is used to firm up hard and washed rind cheese, draw out water and start rind development.

Saturated Brine, 25% Salinity, 32 ounces of salt to 1 gallon of water, used to firm up cheese, draw out moisture through osmosis.

(Mary Karlin 2011)