Cheese lovers visiting our shops on the Suffolk Coast often ask about the different rinds they spot in our "wall of cheese" and namely are they edible? In this blog we're going to dig beneath the surface and investigate life on the edge of your cheese!
The rind is the outer layer of a cheese - its edge or shell which forms during cheese making and maturing. The purpose of a rind is to retain moisture and flavour in the rest of the cheese. Most rinds are natural and organic, and therefore edible. Obvious exceptions would be wax coating and some leaf and bark wrapped cheeses. However, even if a rind is edible there is still another question mark - would you want to eat it? Whilst often intense in flavour, rinds may be chewy or dry, they may look or smell unappealing.
The Academy of Cheese highlights the importance of rinds in its structured approach to tasting cheese. Before any eating takes place, their tasting model invites your assessment of a cheese's rind to help classify and better appreciate the cheese. Following these guidelines here is a closer look at the different rinds you'll find out there and how they are formed.
Examples from the Slate wall of cheese: Baron Bigod; Brie de Meaux, St Jude.
Typical of soft cheeses, bloomy rinds are white in colour with a soft and fuzzy texture. These rinds develop after the cheeses are sprayed with one or more of the moulds Penicillium candidum, camemberti and glaucum. Controlled humidity (i.e. dryer conditions) during the maturing process encourages growth of these moulds and enables them to "bloom". The moulds break down the fat in the cheese so the paste becomes soft and creamy particularly under the rind.
These moulds are edible and therefore so are the rinds they create. Spots of blue Geotrichum mould may appear on a white rind as it ages. We often find this happens with Julie Cheyney's exquisite St Jude's and this suggests the cheese will be tasting really great! In contrast a strong smell of ammonia from the surface of a Camembert or Brie might indicate a rind you wish to leave.
Examples from the Slate wall of cheese: Ogleshield; Norfolk Tawny.
Washed rind cheeses are the funky cousins of the family! They can be spotted by their orange or salmon pink colour. These rinds are typically thick and aromatic (Stinking Bishop is a flagship cheese in this category) although their aroma is often stronger than their meaty flavour. During maturation, these cheeses are washed regularly (once or twice a week) in brine, alcohol (often a local cider or beer) or both. This creates a damp environment on the surface of the cheese where desired moulds, notably brevibacterium linens can thrive. Unlike the white moulds described above which like dryer, less salty conditions, these bacteria enjoy humidity and higher levels of salt and ammonia. They are distinctive in colour (orangey-red) and produce sulphur compounds as they thrive. Given these conditions, washed rinds are edible but may be rather salty.
Examples from the Slate wall of cheese: Colston Bassett Stilton; Suffolk Gold.
Natural rinds are a thin crust that develops on the outside of a cheese as it matures and its surface dries out. This surface may be rubbed with oil, fat, salt, a cloth or palette knife and incidental mould growth may develop giving a mottled appearance (e.g. Norfolk Dapple, Colston Bassett Stilton). Often Cheddars and cheddar-style cheeses are clothbound whilst they mature. In these cases, the natural rind develops under the muslin cloth that is typically removed by the cheesemonger.
Natural rinds are edible and whilst they might be a little dry, gritty or chewy they can also be a fantastic flavour treat so do give them a nibble. The natural rind of aged cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano can be an excellent cooking ingredient, adding creaminess to a soup, stock or stew. Another suggestion is to add one to a jar of olive oil with some garlic cloves and create your own Parmesan-infused oil.
Examples from the Slate wall of cheese: Dorstone; Bosworth Ash; Cornish Yarg; Picos de Europa
Many fresh goats cheeses are coated in edible ash. This is a traditional French maturing technique used to produce mould-ripened cheeses. Sterilised charcoal or vegetable ash is virtually flavourless and is safely edible. The ash itself adds little to the texture or taste of cheeses such as Dorstone, Hay on Wye or Bosworth Ash, its purpose is to create the right conditions for desired mould growth and rind formation by neutralising the natural acidity of a young cheese. Leaf wrapped cheeses are some of the prettiest! We always like to include a beautiful nettle-wrapped Cornish Yarg in the cheese stacks we create for wedding celebrations. Its iconic nettle-wrapped exterior not only gives Yarg a beautiful appearance but also attracts naturally occurring moulds, which impart a delicate mushroomy, earthy flavour to the cheese. The nettles used are sourced from Cornish hedgerows between May and September each year by a team of expert foragers. Once rinsed and cleaned the leaves are brushed on to each cheese in concentric circles. Seasonally a similar technique is used to produce Wild Garlic Cornish Yarg. The rind on Yarg, including the leaves, is edible however many find it rather thick and tough, a bit too chewy. Other leaf wrapped cheeses include Picos de Europa from northern Spain that is matured for eight weeks in maple and chestnut leaves. These should be peeled off before enjoy the cheese.
Examples from the Slate wall of cheese: Norfolk Mardler; Godminster Vintage Cheddar; Weydeland Gouda
Last but not least we have the category of eye-catching wax coated cheeses. These, mostly hard cheddar-style cheeses are easily recognisable from their distinctive appearance: the deep burgundy of Godminster Vintage Cheddar in its different seasonal shapes; the rainbow colours of the Snowdonia Cheese Company range; and the vibrant yellow of East Anglian goat's cheese Norfolk Mardler (with its green label, a nod to local football team Norwich City). These cheeses are all dipped individually into molten wax before maturing. The wax coating retains a much higher moisture content inside the cheese and textures remain buttery rather than crumbly. Across the North Sea in Holland wax coating is a technique frequently used in the making of Gouda. Here a wax-like substance is sprayed over each cheese to protect it whilst also allowing the cheese to breath.
So there you have the lowdown on cheese rinds! Enjoy examining the rind of the next cheese you eat and you'll know exactly whether to try a nibble or not. Having said that, eating even edible rinds is all about personal preference and can often come down to the condition of individual pieces of cheese.