“Uh… Dori? I think something went bad in here.” My friend Alex stood with the refrigerator door at arms length, scrunching up his nose.
I walked over to give it a whiff, and smiled as I took in the familiar stink of the washed-rind Adrahan I had gleefully purchased earlier that day.
“Nope, that’s just the cheese.”
Alex looked at me skeptically, most likely second-guessing his decision to be my rind co-taster for the afternoon.
When trying out new cheeses, we sometimes come across a fuzzy wedge of Brie, or a veiny Blue with skin that’s a bit too moldy for comfort, or a heavily washed rind that elicits a reaction much like the one Alex had when he found himself upwind of my open refrigerator. When that happens, even the boldest among us question whether or not we are truly fearless when it comes to cheese.
The truth is, most cheeses — with the exception of those coated in wax, cloth, or other inedible substances — have perfectly safe-to-eat, naturally formed rinds. Most rinds are bloomy (soft, white and fungal), washed (orange or pink and salty), or natural. More often than not, especially in the former two categories, the rind houses a lot of a cheese’s character.
“If you would taste a Brie without the rind, you would miss half the experience,” says Malachy Egan, Cheesemonger at DiBruno Brothers. “It adds a different flavor and dimension that you wouldn’t get if you just scooped out the paste.”
Brie is a popular example of a bloomy rind cheese. Bloomy rinds are those soft white skins that can sometimes feel fuzzy to the touch. These rinds form as a result of a mold called penicillium candidum, which is either introduced into the curds or applied to the outside of the cheese. The cheese is then exposed to the proper humidity and temperature to facilitate candida growth. The bacteria break down the proteins in the cheese, making it creamy, and form a velvety soft rind around the outside. Add Tou des Til.lers, below, to your arsenal of bloomy-rind cheeses if you you’re a fan of the usual suspects, Brie and Camembert, and wish to try something new in the same family.
Washed-rind cheeses are usually the ones referred to as “stinky cheeses” – in the case of Epoisses, the stink is said to render it quasi-illegal in its home country of France. They are regularly washed in salty brine, sometimes mixed with alcohol or herbs, and are usually on the salty side. The washing process facilitates the growth of bacteria called b-linens, which create an orange or pinkish-red rind. When the rind dries out a bit, the salt crystallizes and creates a sandy texture. See Stanser Shafkase and Adrahan below for examples of rinds on different ends of the washed spectrum. Although washed-rind cheeses are ripe and delicious even without the rind, eating this bacterial skin will add more flavor to the cheese.
Most other edible rinds that don’t fall in the “washed” or “bloomy” category are referred to generally as “natural” rinds. These are rinds which form largely on their own during the aging process, at most receiving an occasional salt rub-down, without the introduction of any bacteria or flora. Natural rinds are commonly found on blue cheese. Personally, I will eat almost any rind that isn’t artificial, but natural rinds are probably the least interesting and most people choose to avoid them altogether because they can be gritty or flavorless. However, some are surprisingly tasty, so don’t discard a natural rind before you’ve tried it! For a delicious cheese with a natural rind that may be pleasant to eat, try the popular French Comté.
Tou des Til.lers
(Spain, raw, cow’s milk, bloomy rind)
On a bloomy-rind scale of Brie to Camembert, the Tou des Til.lers falls somewhere in the middle. The paste is pleasantly pungent, but the rind is what gives the Tou des Til.lers most of its character. With its creamy white paste and slightly fuzzy exterior, Tou des Til.lers looks like a wrinkly version of Brie. The rind is a bit less supple than what you would find on a very bloomy Brie, but it packs some serious muscle and unleashes this cheese’s funkier side. It has a nasal quality with a slight stink that lingers on your lips, but differs from Camembert, its bloomy-rind cousin, in that it tastes more like fresh mushrooms and less like a barnyard. Pair Tou des Til.lers with something on the light but spicy side — like a chardonnay or pale ale.
(Switzerland, raw, sheep’s milk, washed rind)
A taste — and a whiff — of Stanser Shafkase’s gooey paste may make you think twice about whether to give the orange-tinged paste a try. This wedge from the German side of Switzerland has a lightly washed rind, so it actually sweetens the cheese rather than adding bitterness to an already-pungent paste. The rind is not as orange and crystalline as those which are more heavily washed, like with the Hudson Red I tasted here — instead, it’s slightly stiff and grainy texture melts away with the super-soft paste. Jeff DiMaio, Cheese Cave Leader at DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia, recommends pairing Stanser with fruit and a Belgian pale ale.
(Ireland, pasteurized, cow’s milk, washed rind)
Adrahan packs a serious punch to the nose — it nearly drove Alex out of my apartment as I excitedly unwrapped it, practically huffing the fumes (even though he later said it was his favorite of these four!). Although its bark is worse than its bite, this cheese still has a way of lingering in your nostrils even after you’ve eaten it. But Adrahan’s brine-washed rind is its most unique asset. Adrahan is washed more heavily than the Stanser, making it saltier and leaving behind a thick, slightly dry, and highly crystalline rind that crunches a bit between your teeth. DiMaio suggests trying an Alsatian Gewurztraminer with this pungent wedge.
Marcel Petite Comté
(France, raw, cow’s milk, natural rind)
Comté is one of the most popular and best-selling cheeses in France, and often receives a lot of attention and love during the cheesemaking process. The Marcel Petite Comté in particular is carefully cultivated with acute attention to detail — a small team of tasters sample hundreds of wheels each day to estimate the necessary aging time with precision. Like most natural rind cheeses, the Comté rind doesn’t add much flavor and most people may not enjoy eating it, but some may find that it has a pleasant texture. This hard cheese is earthy but mild, almost light, and is versatile for pairing purposes — start with a Pinot Noir or dopplebock, and let the cheese be your guide.
(For Philadelphians seeking an example of a wedge that has received a lot of TLC, try the DB Select Comté, available only at DiBruno Brothers and hand-selected by one of the store’s cheesemongers. The perfect texture and coloring of this natural rind indicate that it has been very well tended to during the aging process, despite being otherwise entirely naturally formed.)
Photos by Julia Silva