Don’t Be Afraid of a Little Rind!

Great Lakes Cheshire

Great Lakes Cheshire

If you’ve been in to the Creamery this winter to taste our first ever hard cheese, the Great Lakes Cheshire, you know it looks a lot older from the outside than its milky, mild interior reveals.  It’s actually only three months old, a relatively short amount of time for a hard aged cheese to reach its prime, but the rind is tough and mottled blue and green with bits of white and brown.  We even wash it with olive oil to tamp down the extra puffiness of the various molds roosting there.  It looks a bit like tundra.

The rind of many cheeses can be a little intimidating when first encountered, but they are essential to the flavor of the paste inside.  Fresh cheeses, like our Sharon Hollows and City Goats, don’t grow rinds because they are meant to be eaten within a week or two, before they can dry out and before their flavor can be influenced by ambient molds in the air.  Older cheeses depend on their rinds to protect them while their flavor develops, and to allow them to breathe without drying out.  A rind can also ripen a cheese – as in the case of cheeses with soft white bloomy rinds like Brie and Camembert, which ripen from the outside in – or add flavor to a cheese, like washed rind cheeses rubbed with bacteria to create a glorious pungent stink.  The rind is such an important part of a cheese that a bit of it is often intentionally left on small wedges on cheese plates and at tastings so that everyone is better able to appreciate the full quality and identity of each cheese.

But the big question is: can I eat it!  Usually, you can.  A general rule is that the younger a cheese is, the softer and tastier its rind will be.  The mold-ripened cheeses we make at the Creamery, like the Bridgewater, Manchester, Lincoln Log, and others, are wholly edible.  In fact, many people think the rind is the best-tasting part of these cheeses (it is where some of the most intense microscopic activity goes on, food science-wise).  Older cheeses, as long as they have natural rinds, are generally edible as well, though they are usually pretty hard and don’t have as pleasing of flavors (the delicious nutty rind of Comte, a French Gruyere, is one exception).  Non-natural rinds, which are found on cloth-bound and waxed cheeses or those wrapped in foil, are not meant to be eaten, though they still work to create and maintain a tasty paste inside.

Ultimately, the choice to eat or not to eat is yours.  The rind of our Cheshire – the one with the pale blues and greens – is rather hard and has a distinctive musty flavor which some of the cheesemakers here at the Creamery greatly covet and others avoid.  So come on in and try it!  If you don’t like it, don’t feel guilty skipping straight to the paste – the rind has been working hard to make and keep it so dang good.

If you have always wanted to taste our cheeses but don’t live in Ann Arbor, fear not!  There just might be a restaurant or cheese shop near you that carries it.  Check out our Places To Buy page.  And, no matter where you live, you can get a box full of Zingerman’s Creamery cheeses sent right to your front door through Zingerman’s Mail Order.  Enjoy.

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All the best,