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Style Highlight: Surface-Ripened Cheeses


Surface-ripened cheeses have a simple definition: They ripen from their rinds (outside surface) inward to the interior paste, via bacteria, yeasts, and/or molds that are encouraged by the cheesemaker to grow during the production and aging process. This broad category encompasses a wide variety of cheeses, including bloomy rind, wrinkly rind, and washed rind varieties. These cheeses are often soft, but range in flavor from mild and buttery to meaty and odiferous. Because bacteria need air to grow, their growth is limited to the rinds only, and not the interior paste of the cheese. Surface-ripened rinds can be a rainbow of colors, but all are edible. Blue cheeses, though ripened with mold, usually fall outside the surface-ripened category due to the internal blue veining running through the cheese.

Types of Surface-Ripened Cheeses

The type of milk, species of microorganisms, conditions of aging, and even the shape of the cheese all contribute to the different textures and flavors of surface-ripened cheeses. Bloomy rind cheeses, like Brie and Camembert, are made by adding Penicillium candidum (or a blend of P. candidum and other molds) to the milk. After the cheese is made, the surface begins to form a velvety soft, white rind when placed in the right temperature and humidity – and the flavors eventually will become earthy and mushroomy. The texture starts as semi-firm, then becomes softer as it ages from the rind inward, eventually becoming quite soft and gooey. 

Jersey Camembert is aged in a cool ripening room for a period of about ten days and during this time, the white fluffy penicilium candidum mold beging to grow on the outside of the cheese, forming its rind.

Jersey Camembert is aged in a cool ripening room for a period of about ten days and during this time, the white fluffy Penicillium candidum mold begins to grow on the outside of the cheese, forming its rind.

Washed rind cheeses, though still under the surface-ripened umbrella, are produced differently. Brevibacterium linens (aka B. linens) are encourage to grow on these cheeses, and are added to the milk during production or directly to the rind of the cheese during aging. Moisture is very important to the growth of B. linens, so washing the formed cheese with brine, wine, beer – or whatever else the cheesemaker decides – several times a week incites a funky, odiferous, red-orange rind to grow. The texture of washed rinds can range from semi-soft (like Taleggio) to downright dollopy (like Vacherin Mont d’Or and Epoisses – which we profiled in our Summer 2014 issue).

Taleggio cheese cut and stacked

Taleggio Valsassina has a highly aromatic rind, but a buttery, tangy flavor.

A third popular type of surface-ripened cheese is ripened using the mold Geotrichum candidum, often resulting in wrinkly, “brain-like” off-white rinds. These cheeses, like La Tur, Saint Marcellin, or many French-style goat cheeses like Bijou and crottin, normally have a tangy or grassy taste, with a chalky texture at the center and a creamy line just under the rind. Most of these cheeses are sold in smaller portions (no more than 5 or 6 ounces), and often require special packaging and handling due to their extremely fragile rinds.

Saint Marcellin is packed in a small terracotta pot to protect the fragile rind.

Saint Marcellin is packed in a small terracotta pot
to protect the fragile rind. 

How to Eat ‘Em

  • Earthy, bloomy rind bries can be quite rich, so pair them with a crisp  white wine, like an unoaked Chardonnay, to balance the cheese. For a delicious, unusual taste sensation,  try a ripe Brie & Bacon Grilled Cheese.
  • Potatoes stand up beautifully to the funk of washed rinds, so try your hand at Confit of Heirloom Potatoes with Grilled Ramps & Taleggio, served with a cleansing, effervescent farmhouse ale.
  • Due to their fragile nature, wrinkly rinded cheese are best served as-is on a cheeseboard. Try an adorable Bijou with blueberry jam, roasted hazelnuts, and an aromatic Gewürztraminer.

Photo Credit: Featured image by Paper Blog

Alicia Hahn

Alicia Hahn is an online editorial intern for culture who excels at eating and enjoys writing, crosswords, and cooking (preferably with cheese). Originally from San Francisco, she moved to Boston for school and fell in love with the city (despite an annual campaign against winter). Her favorite place to be is the farmers’ market, where she finds weird and exciting ingredients to make or break her next meal.