Cheese rinds, munch or toss out?
Surely you've asked this question whilst eating funky cheeses with friends. "Are we supposed to eat the rind or not?" Unless you're surrounded by a bunch of cheese nerds, the answers will be varied and not necessarily based on knowledge.
Even when it comes to the mild rind of a brie cheese I’ve come across a few friends who carefully carve their way around the snowy white velvety outer layer to get to the good stuff inside, while others almost worship the rind. And as the exteriors get more and more robust, even the rind lovers appear to slowly lose their enthusiasm for the flavour of mould and taste of time.
So how do you really know if you should munch or toss out the rind? Personally I feel it depends on if you like the way it tastes. For example the brie I’ve just mentioned, is encased by a rind of penicillium bacteria, which gives a soft, tender rind that tastes a bit like mushrooms. If you skip the rind on one of these carefully aged cheese in my opinion you'll be missing on the best part. Other rinds however, are not as palatable. Some rinds are dusty grey and brown, and you probably won't like the unpleasant way it tastes or its cardboard-like texture. Still these rinds are perfectly safe to eat, so if they are up your alley and you like the flavour, as well as the act of digging gunk out of your molars, by all means, munch!
There are of course a few rinds you should never eat. Cloth, paper and wax materials aren't poisonous, but they aren't food or even a true rind. Some people use the rinds to enhance their soup or broth but you certainly don’t want to use the waxy exteriors of Gouda and Edam. Yet, remember that while not appetising for most, the material these are still food grade wax, and eating it is not dangerous in any way. The point re-enforces the notion that the best way to determine whether or not you should eat a rind is simply to taste it.
Although taste is subjective I’m tempted to see if I can come up with a sample list of cheese rind everybody should definitely eat enthusiastically, rinds you should eat enthusiastically if you personally enjoy, and rinds to toss out.
First, let's look at the good - The fine white layer on this triple cream French brie adds a delicate flavour of mushrooms to the cheese. Whilst the texture of the rind may detract from the delicate creamy centre it has a nice flavour. Bottom line: Taste it. If you enjoy the flavour
Skip the rind on a Taleggio, which is considered by many as the gateway cheese to stinky cheeses, and you'll miss the whole point of washed rinds. If you're not enjoying this rind, you may want to start shopping in different section of the cheese counter. Highly recommended.
If you take home a ball of Boursault eating the rind is almost mandatory. It would be almost
impossible to no eat the rind as you dive into the cheese because the exterior is so delicate. It also looks like brain matter. Definitely eat it (not because it looks like brains).
Aged Monte-Enebro goat cheese (one of my personal favourites) is treated with mould spores to induce that wonderful musky flavour we associate with more popular blue cheeses. The inside of this cheese is a chalky but smooth and white, with the slightly jazzy flavour you'll find in many aged cheeses. Sample some with the rind and you'll get that same buzz but 10 fold, along with spicy and peppery flavours. Definitely eat it.
The exterior of washed or coated cheeses such as Epoisses de Bourgogne is made of black tea, honey or other flavouring substance. Cheeses like these use washes and coatings that are meant to impart flavour and become a part of a cheese. Other cheeses use chilies and herbs to flavour from the outside. I love these rinds. They're a distinct part of the cheese eating experience.
Now let's look at the bad. Remember, it's still subjective. (So eat if you want to).
Robiola La Rossa is made of raw goat milk, (comes from Piedmont, Italy). This cheese is wrapped in cherry leaves. It may sound delicious, but they're tough and chewy. I’ve seen people chew the leaves like tobacco after eating the cheese. Personally not something I’m tempted to try. But feel free to eat this rind if it tastes good to you.
The rind of a well-aged pecorino is tough and dry. You could eat it, but the flavours it imparts aren't exactly delicate or refined. In fact, they're likely to detract from the good stuff inside. If you like it, eat it, but for me you’re now entering the twilight-zone of palatability.
A cheese that sits around for 2 years such as Qucke’s 2 years mature clothbound English cheddar is a long time for a milk product to sit around exposed to air -- even if it was a carefully controlled environment. This cheddar is wrapped in cloth that you absolutely should not eat and has been exposed to dust, cheese mites and all sorts of strange and wonderful creatures. If that sounds like your thing, eat as much as you can handle. Especially if you’re someone who also likes bungee jumping.
The exterior of the Tomme Crayeuse which comes from Savoie smells exactly like toilet cleansing agent. Ammonia is a by-product of this aging process of these natural rind cheeses, and while the inside of this cheese is delicious, the outside smells worse than Mister Muscle. Eat at your own risk. Especially if you like the taste of ammonia.
And the ugly? Yuck! Don't eat it. Ever.
Sure it's safe, but wax tastes like wax. It's not food and you should not be eating the casing on Gouda or Edam cheeses. If a rind sticks to your teeth like cheap caramel toffee, shift your focus to the inside of the wheel. You'll be much happier. But remember it's your palate, and all of this stuff is perfectly edible. There is only one rule that governs the consumption of cheese rinds: much what you like and toss the rest.
Before I sign off a few words of caution: When it comes to cheese, you’ll either hear it’s very good for you, or that it can make you fat and unhealthy. But these extremes don’t provide a fair picture of dairy. The truth is as you’d expect somewhere in the middle. Cheese choices come down to common sense. Having a few cubes with your salad or sprinkled over vegetables isn’t likely to get you in trouble (unless you’re lactose intolerant or allergic). On the other hand, regularly eating nachos drenched in melted cheddar and pizzas with triple cheese is clearly not healthy (and for more reasons than just the cheese). Like I always say, moderation is key.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this piece and as always feel free to share or ask any questions.