What is this shit all up on my cheese?
And… can I eat it?
That powdery, funky stuff on the outside of your cheese is called a rind and it’s basically the cheese’s skin. Cheese rinds form during the aging process and there are three types: bloomy, washed, and natural rinds. OK, enough with the fancy talk. Are you supposed to eat that stuff or nah?
There’s really no “supposed to” here; it all depends on your preferences. Unless the cheese is coated with an inedible substance like wax, rinds are totally safe to eat – but that doesn’t mean everyone likes them. I can’t think of a better explanation than this quote from my friend Jordan Edwards, cheesemonger at local Chicago shop Pastoral:
“My rule of thumb is unless it’s covered in wax, try it at least once. The rind is basically concentrated cheese. It’s kind of like cooking with peppers: if you want more heat, leave in the seeds. If you want less, don’t eat the seeds.”
Personally, I’m a devoted member of the rind eaters club. I love the peppery notes of a bloomy rind on a lightly aged goat cheese and the cave-y funk of an earthy stilton. If you’ve never indulged in the pleasures of rind-eating I challenge you to try one of each type listed below. Maybe you won’t like them, and that’s OK. But you might find yourself in the throes of a new love affair.
The Cheese Rind Types
The Bloomy Rind
That marshmallowy white stuff on the outside of your brie is called a bloomy rind. These cheeses are coated with edible molds, such as Penicillium candidum. The cheeses ripen from the outside-inwards. Sometimes, a seductive gooey layer called the “creamline” forms around the fudgy interior.
The Washed Rind
Ever smell a cheese that tastes like sweaty gym socks? That was probably a washed rind cheese. Those orange and red-hued cheeses usually taste much tamer than they smell. These stinkers start as bloomy rind cheeses and are then washed in brine, alcohol, or both to encourage the growth of a bacteria called B. Linens. These rinds may be sticky and sometimes even crunchy. They’re too strong for some and irresistible for others. Either way, they’re always a great conversation starter.
Examples: Taleggio, Époisse, Gruyere
Flavor notes: beef stock, fresh sourdough, stank
The Natural Rind
Left to their own devices, cheese naturally forms a rind as a way to protect itself. Salting and air circulation draw moisture out of the surface of the wheel forming a dry, thin crust. These rinds are sometimes coated with cloth or wax but they can also be rubbed with oils, spices, and flavorings like espresso.
Examples: Manchego, Bayley Hazen Blue, Parmigiano Reggiano
Flavor notes: caves, forest moss
And Then Some Cheeses Don’t Have A Rind At All
These cheeses are basically naked and they taste the same on the outside as they do on the inside. Rindless cheeses include fresh ones aren’t old enough to form a rind and those aged in vacuum-sealed plastic, like block cheddar.