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Washed Rind Cheeses - Cheese of the Month (November 2013)

  • r

The Cheese of the month for November is washed rind. These are cheeses where the rind is washed with a solution, usually brine but sometimes wine, beer or fruit juice. The liquid moistens the rind and promotes the growth of bacteria which impart flavors to the cheese. The bacteria also impart aromas to cheese. Some of the bacteria are similar to ones found on the human body and some washed rind cheeses have been described as smelling like feet or BO (there is even one called “Stinking Bishop”).

Washed rind cheeses are thought to have originated in monasteries. Monks found that washing the cheeses imparted meaty flavors, so the cheeses were like a substitute for meat.

I first became aware of washed rind cheeses in the early 90s. I was a cheese novice and was in graduate school. This great professor I knew had just come back from France with a stinky cheese in her bag. She was trying to get people in the department to taste the cheese. But no one wanted to taste this super smelly cheese. Except my future husband and I who were adventuresome eaters. "This is the best cheese in the world. It's called Epoisse. You have to try it". So we tried it. Our first impression was that the cheese did not taste at all like it smelled. The flavor was not as strong as I imagined and was not at all funky or stinky tasting. It was like fondue made with a really flavorful yummy cheese. I loved the silky texture and the salty rich umami flavor. A few years later I started working in Berkeley and heard about this great cheese store called the cheeseboard. On my first visit I saw Epoisse. I got excited because I thought that this was a cheese you could only get in France. I brought one home and we loved it and I started trying other washed rind cheeses. I have been hooked since.

Many people shy away from washed rind cheeses because of a perception that they are too strong and stinky. Unless they are over ripe and ammoniated, washed rind cheeses like Epoisse are not that strong tasting. I have read in descriptions of washed rind cheeses that their bark is worse than their bite. This is true. As I found with my first taste of Epoisse, the cheeses might smell stinky but they don't taste stinky. There are also mild washed rind cheeses that don’t stink as much.

Some of these cheeses might be harder to obtain than others. I have several recommendations but if you can’t find them please substitute another washed rind cheese. Or if there is one you especially love that I have not listed please tell us about it. I encourage people to look on online sites like igourmet (http://www.igourmet.com/) which has a very nice selection of washed rind cheese.

Also please report on beverages that you pair withy these cheeses. Many of these cheeses are washed with wine, beer or cider so experiment.

Certain washed rind cheeses, the ones meant to be soft and pungent, are sometimes sold under ripe and hard. If you like milder cheeses you might actually like the more under ripe versions better. But the more ripe versions are much more flavorful and represent what the cheeses are really about. To really appreciate these cheeses you need to try the ripe versions. If one seems hard, you can try to age it in your fridge or a couple weeks. For last month’s COTM I bought a half piece of cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam. It was very hard when I bought it. I let it sit in my fridge for two or three weeks and it softened up a bit and started to develop a more liquidy layer under the rind. When I finally tried it was great. Here is some advice from Delucacheesemonger from last month’s discussion for a way to age Red Hawk:

“l buy them when there and invariably they are as hard as a baseball as W(t)F ages nothing in the aging room, l worked at three of them and the one in rural Toronto (Mississauga) did, but the two in the states did not. Keep cheese whole and open 2-3 weeks past the sell by date and usually works and turns into goo.”

So people might want to stock up on thee cheeses now and allow them to age a couple of weeks in the fridge if they seem very hard.

I am going to try something different with how the thread is organized. The purpose will be to try to keep the discussions on a particular cheese grouped together so they are easier to follow. I am going to add each suggested cheese as a reply to this post. When discussing a particular cheese, reply to post for that specific cheese. If you are discussing a cheese not included in the suggestions introduce it with a reply to this original post. I am not sure if this system will work better but we can give it a try.

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  1. ALSATIAN MUNSTER. Washed rind from France. Well regarded by cheese connoisseurs. Hard to find. Had one earlier this year and it was amazing. Currently out of stock at igourmet.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munster_...

    GRES D' ALSACE. French washed rind sold as small ovals with a leaf on top.

    http://www.fromi.com/en/products/deta...

    Supposed to be similar to Alsatian munster. I have seen this one in different markets so I think it should be not too difficult to find. I had one this weekend and it was outstanding. Silky smooth thick creamy paste with intense satisfying cheese umami flavor.

     
    16 Replies
    1. re: Ridge

      The variety I tried was Gres des Vosges (but that was from Alsace and had the orange rind show in your pic so I assume it is the same cheese). Aged 1 month. Stinky but fairly mild. I was not impressed. You must have gotten a better sample than I had.

      1. re: DonShirer

        The one I had this weekend was one I just got at the Berkeley Bowl in Berkeley CA. The expiration date on the cheese was April 2013! It was just perfect. I get the sense a lot of these cheeses are unfortunately released too under ripe.

          1. re: fldhkybnva

            Give it a light squeeze. It should feel like the inside is soft.

            1. re: Ridge

              When bought at the store right? Or will a cut piece age at home?

              1. re: fldhkybnva

                A cut piece will not age at home. It can get dry but it ceases to ripen.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Okie, that's what I always thought just wanted to double check.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Melanie, I know you know, and I'm curious - why would a cut piece cease to ripen? Thanks.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      I don't know the why. But if you think about it, most cheeses ripen from the outside surface inward in a complex cascade of enzymatic, chemical and bacterial reactions. When you cut into an intact cheese, you introduce a rush of oxygen that can alter or terminate those delicate processes. They do continue to change, but I consider that degradation and not ripening. Vacuum packing can slow down or suspend ripening, so that also speaks to the role of oxygen.

                      Some years ago at a tasting of Marin French cheeses, the cheesemaker pointed out one of its cheeses (wish I could recall which one) that would continue to ripen after cut because the bloomy mold would regrow readily on the cut surface at refrigerator temperature. Maybe with those two clues you can find the real answer and let us know.

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9188...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        This has me wonder whether cutting up a chunk of cheese with a short shelf life could prolong it a bit.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          No, not really. But that's getting too far off topic for this thread which will become unwieldy soon. I'd suggest that you start a new topic or ask the mods to split off this tangent with an appropriate title. We'll all be better served.

            2. re: Ridge

              I was going to suggest to the Bay Area folks, if you are in the vicinity of the Berkeley Bowl west and are interested in tasting this cheese, see if they still have some of the ones with the April 2013 expiration date.

              1. re: Ridge

                I was curious if having a less aged Gres des Vosges would be as good. The one I had in October had an expiration date of Aril 2013. It tasted perfect. I just tried one that has not reached its expatriation date. It was just meh. It really is a shame these cheeses are sold without being aged enough for the cheeses to reach their full potential. Have been thinking of getting a little fridge to set to 50 degrees to dedicate for aging cheeses. Husband sais "isn't there enough stuff we need to buy?"

                1. re: Ridge

                  You can compromise on 55 degrees and mature your wine in it too. ;)

            3. re: Ridge

              I recently tried Alsatian Muenster and while I really wanted to like it, I didn't. It was just too much funky feet for me. I'm not sure why the smell of the washed-rind cheeses seems to translate into a funky taste for me but that's been my general experience.

              1. re: Ridge

                Tasted an Alsatian munster last night. Moderately strong tasting with a very good mouth coating texture. Barnyard and Umami flavors. It was very good but this particular one was not as good as the ripe Gres d' Alsace we tasted last week or the Epoisse we tasted the same time.

              2. CHIMAY- should be commonly available. A Belgian cheese washed in Beer. Not as strong as some of the others but very good.

                http://cheese.about.com/b/2009/06/26/...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Ridge

                  Last night we tasted CABRICHARME. This is a Belgian washed rind goat cheese made in a similar way as Chimay.

                  You can read more about it here:

                  http://culturecheesemag.com/node/7119

                  http://cheesenotes.com/post/418723409...

                  Here are my tasting notes:

                  Rind was hard, so we ate it without the rind. Semi-soft. Husband though the consistency was similar to Havarti. Not strongly goaty. Not super strong but the flavor was very rich. Flavor was kind of nutty and reminded me a little bit a goat flan I make. I really enjoyed it and would get it again.

                2. I am a big fan of Epoisses. The most common type I can find is the pasteurized Berthaut made for export. One year I sent several small wheels as Christmas gifts, and I double wrapped them in Saran, then foil. The postal clerk could still smell them! The bark is indeed stronger than the bite.
                  In November my friend Delucacheesemonger is returning from France with some of the real deal for me to try for the first time, I look forward to it.
                  I think I recall reading that it is washed with a brandy-like liquid. I can't disagree with whoever called Epoisses the king of cheeses.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Veggo

                    Already vacuum packed and ready for travel back to the states.

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. EPOISSE. A French cheese washed in Brine.

                      I encourage people to read the description on Wikipedia which is very interesting and informative:

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89po...

                      Also:

                      http://marcusgirard.blogspot.com/2010...

                      We have recently been discussing Epoisse on this board:

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921856

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918555

                      Epoisse is available in different sizes, from individual wheels to a very large sized Epoisse sold as slices. I have found Epoisse can vary from batch to batch. The large sized version may be more consistent in terms of quality and balance.

                      There is also CHABLIS(AFFIDELICE), a cheese made by one of the main producers of Epoisse. It is essentially an Epoisses washed with Chablis.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Ridge

                        I'm probably in the minority, but I prefer the milder Langres, made in the same Champagne region, to the more pungent Epoisses.

                        1. re: DonShirer

                          If you like Langres, too mild for me, you will probably like Soumaintrain from the same region, a little wetter, but not stronger than Langres

                        2. re: Ridge

                          Tasted some Epoisses last night. This was a small slice from a big wheel. Loved it. Very well balanced. Not too salty. Some barnyard aromas but not too much. Pungent, runny, slightly tangy, full flavored, umami and meaty flavors. Our favorite of the 5 washed rind cheeses we tasted.

                          1. re: Ridge

                            Last night I tried Trou de cru. This is a mini Epoisses produced by Berthaut, one of the main producers of Epoisses. It's no larger than 2 inches in diameter. We have tried it in the past but not in a very long time. I was a bit concerned because sometimes smaller wheels of Epoisses can be overly salty. But this mini Epoisses was excellent. Silky texture, perfect amount of funk, deep umami flavor. It was by far the favorite of the cheeses we tried last night. It paired nicely with a Spanish oloroso sherry. Only problem is we wanted more.