Smoked cheeses can add a wonderfully unique flavor to an otherwise bland cheese board, as well as give a complex warmth to pastas, stratas, or casseroles. Nearly any type of cheese can be smoked, though be sure to read the label carefully: Only cheese exposed to real smoke may be called “smoked.” Cheese that has only had liquid smoke added to it must be labeled with “smoke flavor.”
How It’s Made
Cheeses are often smoked as the last step in the cheesemaking process, after they have fully ripened. Liquid smoke is sometimes added to the curd or applied during aging, but exposing cheese to real smoke before it’s fully ripe often disrupts the aging process.
For obvious reasons, cheeses are typically cold-smoked to prevent them from melting. The process is a simple one: Place your chosen kindling (soaked in water – or a more flavorful liquid – to create more smoke) over the heat source. Place the cheese on racks in an enclosed space, making sure to leave enough space between wheels to allow the smoke to evenly circulate. To be considered a “cold smoke,” the temperature should stay below 100°F. Some cold smokers funnel smoke via a pipe into a separate box containing the food, thus keeping it away from the heat source. A traditional smoker or BBQ may also be used if you can keep the heat low enough and the cheese far enough away from the heat source.
Any cheese may be smoked as long as the temperature is kept low enough. The flavor of the finished product depends on several factors. The kindling – which can be anything from hardwood, grape vines, even nut shells – has great effect on the final flavors, and may be combined to create a truly unique product. The length of time that cheese is exposed to smoke also has a great effect. Soft, fresh cheeses may only need to be smoked for as little as an hour; harder cheeses can be smoked for days without overpowering the palate.
Besides imparting delicious flavor, smoking is an effective way of preserving foods – something that was necessary in the time before refrigeration. Heartier foods like meats are typically hot smoked, and the heat of the cooking process kills many potentially harmful contaminants.
However, delicate cheese can still benefit from the preservative effect of smoke. Wood smoke contains certain chemical compounds and a very low pH level, both of which act to inhibit the growth of microbes that might cause cheese to spoil faster. Smoke can also reduce the overall moisture content of the cheese, meaning it will last longer than an unsmoked wheel of the same variety.
How to Eat It
- Rivers Edge Chevre’s Up in Smoke is smoked over alder and hickory chips, before being wrapped in smoked maple leaves. Alder wood is known for imparting a light sweetness, while hickory adds a strong, meaty flavor. Dot this cheese on a green salad for a beefy bite to please carnivores and vegetarians alike.
- Play off the fruity tones of Carr Valley’s Apple Smoked Cheddar by pairing slices with balls of fresh melon, or add to an apple pie’s crust for a surprisingly complex flavor.
- Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue is smoked over local hazelnut shells, which impart a nutty, sweet, dense flavor. Add to a charbroiled burger or eat with a dry cider.