While I don’t make cheese at home anymore , or indeed monger it for a living anymore , I do subvert it every now and then for fun. I love the funky, tangy, expressively fermented world of washed rind cheese.
Washed rind cheese or, smear ripened to use the technical term, is a family of cheeses that are matured or ripened by encouraging an environment on the rind that is conducive to a range of microbes including brevibacterium Linens or B Linens to flourish. These microbes ripen the cheese and create all sorts of pungent fruity yeasty earthy aromas and flavours. Like the best things in life they are an acquired taste.
Washed rind cheese was the first type of intensified dairy production. These types of cheese developed in the Catholic Abbeys with their large dairy herds. Prior to this farmhouse cheeses were made by individual farmers with small herds. The milk would be saved up across multiple milkings until there was enough for cheese making. The resulting milk would acidify as it sat waiting for cheesemaking creating cheeses that promoted white mould on the rind and inhibited positive bacteria. The Abbeys with their large herds could produce cheese from a single milking and so their cheeses favoured bacteria as a ripening agent on the rind and rather than the mould ripened cheese of the farmhouse. The monastic dairies would wash or smear the ripening cheeses in brine as they aged forming a rind not made up of mould but one inhabited by bacteria. Sometimes a little of the wine , beer or spirit of the Abbey might be used as well to add its own flavours to the cheese.
And so to my subversion.
When I made cheese at home I used to favour washed rind cheeses as I love to eat them, they are not readily available (Particularly in provincial supermarkets) and they seemed to turn out better than other cheese I attempted. I don’t have the time or milk to make cheese anymore but I still do a little home rind washing.
I buy in wheels of what Evansdale call Farmhouse Brie and wash the wheels myself . Farmhouse Brie bears no resemblance to the Brie of France. Rather it is a chunky 1kg wheel farmhouse cheese with a white mould covering and an interior to thick to ripen in the nature of a brie or camembert. In its natural state it’s a nice enough mild cheese, lovely in a sandwich. It is also perfect for my purposes.
The washing process transforms this nice mild cheese into something a lot more complex and delicious .
- Wheel of appropriate cheese
- Natural salt
- The dregs of some sort of alcohol , preferably a live one
- Food grade plastic container big enough to hold the wheel
- Food grade non reactive trivet grill or mesh to hold the cheese up off the bottom
- Container to hold brine
- Paper towels
- Somewhere cool to store it, I have a 9c cellar fridge
Make the brine
Boil the kettle , dilute 1.5 teaspoons of salt in 100ml of water , let cool.
Add dregs of whatever alcohol you plan on using. I tend to use Lambic, or our own mix ferm or spontaneous beers or my home farmhouse cider
Take a paper towel , fold it up. With clean hands take out the cheese , dip the paper towel in the brine , wipe the cheese down all over.
Place the cheese on the mesh inside the plastic container. Seal it up and place in your cool place. Put the brine in the fridge.
The next day repeat , be careful to replace the cheese the other way up to how it was the day before.
I repeat daily , then as it starts to ripen I might move to every couple of days.
The cheese will start to develop a beige to brick red hue on the rind , it will become a little tacky and pungent cabbage, yeasty, smelly feet like aromas will start to be produced.
Once you judge it to be ripe enough leave it for a few days without washing in order for the rind to dry a little , then wrap and store in the fridge. I was given some wonderful cheese wraps but wax paper or baking parchment will do.
Cut and enjoy!