Cheese rind - to eat or not?
I don't eat parmesan rind, because I know it's inedible. I throw it into a pot of minestrone for flavor.
But what about other rinds - for example, brie? I can't stand rind, but is it supposed to be an acquired taste that I'm just not "getting"? If I'm in polite company, am I supposed to eat it instead of picking around it?
Or, is there no right or wrong, and it's just a matter of preference?
Thanks very much.
Interesting topic. Thanks for bringing it up.
As for the health issue of eating the rinds of cheese -- it definitely does depend on the cheese. Usually younger, fresher cheeses have a rind that is safe to eat -- older cheeses may have active mold that, while perhaps not directly harmful, may make some people slightly queasy.
It's important to remember that the rind is the "wrapper" of the cheese. And, unlike the rind or "wrapper" of fruit it can't really be washed (it can be wiped off, however, and should be before serving!)
For the taste issue -- I take serious issue with anyone who says you "have" to eat the rind. These people are ignorant -- you don't ever have to eat any part of anything. I know plenty of people who cut the fat from a piece of steak (which often is the best part), just because they don't like to eat it. It's not from a health or weight issue, they just don't like it. Who am I to tell them to eat that part of the steak? Or people who never eat an apple without peeling it that they must eat the peel? I feel EXACTLY the same about cheese. It's also not my place, or anyone else's, to assume that people are not eating the rind from ignorance. They may well know that they do or don't like the rind of that particular type of cheese, and I just assume that they know their own taste well enough for me not to mess with it.
If someone ever asks me, I always say, for all cheeses, that it's optional.
As for the ettiquette angle of cheese serving, things are also pretty clear cut. Emily Post's Blue Book of Social Ettiquette clearly shows how each type of cheese should be served, both formally and casually.
The first concern is that the cheese be served at the right temperature, and with the correct accompaniments and untensils.
She discourages the serving of large, uncut pieces of cheese at "stand up" cocktail parties and teas. The cutting of your own cheese while standing up holding a drink is not easy or socially graceful. When cheese is served at a "stand up" party like that, it should be apportioned off into single-serving pieces, whether on bread or crackers, or served in some dish.
She stresses that toothpicks are never proper serving utensils. :) If you serve pieces of hard cheese, serve them already on pieces of bread or crackers. Otherwise save hard cheeses during the cheese course of a sit down meal, or in sandwiches, etc. Never have cubes or small slices of hard cheese just sitting out for people to pick up -- even if they have untensils, some people will invariably use their hands and probably touch other people's cheese! This is not so horrible, I guess, if everyone has totally clean hands (and one hopes one's guests do), but it does definitely bring down the social tone of the party, perhaps to less than acceptable levels :)
Serve cheese in an assembled dish or on a bread/cracker/vegetable etc vehicle. This makes good sense, and is kinder to your guests.
Soft cheeses, like brie, should NOT be served as a whole wheel at a standup party. I don't care how much yummy stuff you've baked on it, it's just a disaster waiting to happen. At a sitdown party you can serve this, as it can be passed around the table by you, a servant (fat chance!) or from guest to guest at an informal party. Then people can apportion off the amount of cheese/topping that they want, rather than hovering over a buffet trying to carve off the part they want. She also stresses that everyone should definitely take their portion of rind, and cut it off on their own plate. This is another reason that stand up parties are problematic with a rinded cheese -it's tough to carve out the middle while you're standing and holding a drink!
If you must serve a rinded cheese-- cut off the rind and serve the cheese in a dish or on a rusk, bread, cracker, vegetable, etc, she says.
Whole, natural cheeses are actually somewhat tricky to serve. I prefer to put them in or on something when I serve them at a party that is not actually a sit-down dinner.
Just a few thoughts -- but I'm sure that it's not going to stop that ubiquitous round of brown-sugared "brie" I see at every cocktail party, ruthlessly carved at and hacked by everyone who passes by trying to get at the middle (sigh).
Twelve-hundred-year-old cheese etiquette:
Einhard's ninth-century biography of the Emperor Charlemagne describes a visit the Emperor made around 800 AD to a monastery in what is now northern France. Since it's a Friday, the abbot serves Charlemagne the abbey's distinctive, wheel-shaped soft cheese. Charlemagne thinks this cheese is great, and demands a cartload be sent every year to his palace. The abbot notices that Charlemagne hasn't eaten his rind, and tells him it is the best part. Charlemagne's response is not recorded.
The moral of the story is unclear. What is clear that if you rule Western Europe you get as much free Brie as you can eat and don't have to eat the rind. :-)
Parmesan, romano and other hard cheese rinds are used sometimes for flavoring in minestrone and other hearty soup recipies. They won't melt into the soup(take them out before serving)but they will give up their concentrated flavor. Just make sure you trim off any wax that may be on the rind.
Cheeses can have several different kinds of rinds. Sometimes the rind forms naturally as a result of exposure to air (as with Parmigiano-Reggiano). Sometimes the cheese is sprayed with mold spores (usually a Penicillium species), to encourage a thick layer of mold to form (Brie is such a bloomy rind cheese). Sometimes the cheese is "washed" with wine, marc, beer, or something else to encourage a variety of bacteria and mold to grow in the rind. This helps to intensity the cheese's flavor, and often makes it rather smelly. So, if you're told that a cheese is a "washed-rind" cheese, you can expect it to have a strong taste and stink up your refrigerator. There are also some goat cheeses that are given a protective coating of vegetable ash, and some cheeses (like Feta) that aren't allowed to develop a rind at all. I mention all of this to give you some idea what to expect if you do decide to eat a cheese's rind.
As for the question of whether you SHOULD eat the rind... this is a matter of controversy in the cheese world. Some very famous and important cheese experts (whatever that means) have recommended that the rind should never be eaten. So, you're in very good company if you don't even want to taste them. If someone tries to make you feel unsophisticated, just tell them that Pierre Androuet doesn't believe in eating the rinds either!
I generally don't eat the rinds of most cheeses, so I accumulate a little pile of rinds on the side of my plate. I'll usually taste little bits of the rind of a washed rind cheese, just to sample another aspect of what the cheese has to offer. Bigger pieces can get way too strong, though. I often eat larger pieces of the rind of a bloomy rind cheese like Brie, though, because otherwise some of these cheeses can be a little bland for me. In the case of Brie, this may be because the Brie that we buy in America isn't real Brie, which is illegal in America because it's made from raw milk and aged for less than 60 days.
Whatever you do, don't eat the wax casing that you sometimes see around factory-made cheeses. And don't eat any little pieces of paper label that the cheese preparer wasn't able to remove from the rind. I believe I have read somewhere that cheese rinds contain more potential pathogens than the cheese pate, and that may be important to you too. I have also wondered whether people who are allergic to penicillin shouldn't eat cheeses that are sprayed with Penicillium species -- maybe this is a good time for me to do some research on that too.
The bottom line is, trim it off it you don't like it. You won't be impolite, or even the slightest bit unsophisticated.
One side note to what this guy said. It IS impolite to cut around the rind on the plate. Take the piece of cheese with the rind and simply remove it on your plate. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people scoop out the middle of brie and leave the rind sitting on the cheese plate.
re: Karl S.
Ah, yes, I agree completely. Good point. I was imagining either cutting up and serving cheese in one's own home, or sitting in a restaurant and being served a cheese plate, in which each little piece of cheese should be served with part of the rind, which you're free to eat or trim away as you wish.
But if you're at, say, a cocktail party, where you're supposed to cut yourself a piece of cheese to put on your plate, do as the waiter in the restaurant would do. Take a little wedge that includes an equal share of the rind. Once it's on your plate, you can trim off the rind if you want.
re: Howard C.
As someone who is moderately allergic to penicillin, I can give you an answer on whether or not to eat the rind of brie from my experience.
The first time I tasted brie, I had no idea what molds were used to make the rind. I was told that the rind must be eaten. I did so, and became wretchedly ill soon after. I suspected food poisoning, went to the college medical facility, told them that I had food poisoniong, they agreed and that was that.
Years later, I again had brie, ate the rind, as everyone else had done, and again, became quite ill. This time, I looked at the label, and read the fine print, and saw that a species of penicillium was used to produce the mold. Aha!
For years after, I would not touch brie. Then, I found that if I carefully ate the pate of the cheese, and kept away from the rind, I could eat small amounts of it with care. Then, once, I ate brie with my usual refusal to eat the rind and still got very ill.
At that point I gave it up entirely, which is very sad, as I do love the flavor of it. The only brie I will eat now is that bastardized "Creme de Brie" stuff which has some of the flavor and texture of the real thing, but no rind anywhere, which has never made me sick.
I wish I could eat real brie, but, well, it just doesn't seem worth the risk of my body attempting to eject the offending substance at top speed.
Thanks for sharing those unfortunate experiences. Have you ever tried eating blue cheese? The blue is due to pigments in the spores of Penicillium molds, I think usually Penicillium roqueforti and/or Penicillium glaucum. So I'd think you would be allergic to blue cheese as well, although I've never actually known anyone who has had this experience.
I'm going to start asking people if they're allergic to penicillin before I serve them cheese. The other other thing I usually bring up (as discreetly as possible) is pregnancy, because some cheeses, especially soft cheese made from raw milk, can rarely be contaminated with bacteria (especially Listeria monocytogenes) that are bad for pregnant women to eat.
Also, while we're on the subject of cheeses that certain people should avoid... many (I think most) cheeses are made with rennet, a substance that is extracted from the lining of the fourth stomach of a calf. The rennet contains an enzyme called chymosin, which is necessary for breaking down proteins in the milk and enabling coagulation. I suppose this makes many cheeses unsuitable for vegetatarians to eat, strictly speaking. Maybe it also makes them not Kosher as well, I'm not sure. If you need an alternative, there are good cheeses that are made with "vegetable rennet" (which most often comes from a certain kind of thistle), or enzymes in fungi that can also break down proteins.
I meant to mention the blue cheeses, but got distracted by a phone call and hit post before I was done--thanks for asking.
They can make my stomach upset very easily, too. I love the flavor of them even more than brie--Gorgonzola being a favorite, but if I eat a certain amount of them, I become quite sick.
This first happened in childhood before we knew I was allergic to penicillin--I had eaten blue cheese spread on crackers and got violently ill, with chills and much time spent in the bathroom. My mother thought it was food poisoning, but as she had eaten the same thing and was unaffected, Dad said that wasn't it. He thought maybe the cheese was too rich.
Later, after a bout with pneumonia which was treated with penicillin, which later, caused me to break out in hives and become sicker, we discovered the allergy. The doctors did not say anything about not eating cheeses, however.
Farther along in my childhood, when a blood test was done to determine some of my allergies, blue cheese was confirmed as something I should avoid.
I will eat it now and again, but only in limited amounts, with the knowledge that I am dancing on the ragged edge of gastric disaster each time I do so.
It sucks to be allergic to things that taste so darned good.
BTW--checking for allergies before serving any food is a good idea. Culinary school made me very aware of that, because the chefs treated food allergies very seriously, and terrified us students with tales of anaphalactic shock and death by spring roll and chili thickened with peanut butter.
Sorry about your allergies...I have similar problems, not with penicillen, but yeast allergies. I have to ration bread, wine, anything fermented, etc. Cheese is a problem, particularly soft rinds and blue cheeses. Blue cheeses can make me incredibly ill. Too bad at our last potluck, there were 4 different blue cheeses!
So, be aware, there can be different allergies that prevent folks from enjoying all the cheeses!