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The Magic Of Washed Rind Cheese

The Magic Of Washed Rind Cheese

The ‘washed-rind’ family of cheeses are a bold, rebellious and eccentric bunch. 

Hard to ignore once in your fridge, illusive sounding, funky, meaty, neon oranges and brick reds… well, it only seemed right to start our journey here!

So, first things first. The how and why.

The familiar white, bloomy mold of a Brie or Camembert - Penicillium candidum - or Penicillium camembert (see what they did there!) is added to such cheeses as a ‘starter’ - to kick into gear the production of this iconic rind while maturing.

Apart from this there is minimal fiddling from the cheesemaker, and the cheese is left to rest and mature in peace in a cool spot...

‘Washed rind’, or ‘smear-ripened’ cheese however, take an even greater labour of love.

Unlike the moulds growing on the dryer, cooler surface of a white bloomy cheese, the washed-rind process encourages different moulds entirely - which act and taste very different!

These moulds, one of many being 'brevibacterium linens’, prefer a humid, salty and high ammonia environment. To create this, a brine solution or alcohol (brandy and cider are popular) are wiped onto the cheese while ageing. This can vary from a handful of times, to daily!

Essentially, yeasts and moulds are quite fussy. A careful balance of their surroundings is needed for them to be happy and cooperative. In the case of Brevibacterium linens and it’s washed-rind siblings, we think it’s well worth the effort.

How and why, tick. But when did this wonderful cheese sorcery begin, and where?

16th Century monks of Northern France made washed-rind cheese famous first. The ageing cellars of the abbeys were hard to regulate - both in cleanliness and in temperature. This would have resulted in less desirable moulds and rinds. Wiping the cheese with alcohol (beer and brandy would have been plentiful...hard life..) kept the environment on the cheeses stable and produced tastier cheeses. This is also where the term ‘smear-ripened’ comes in - as monks would have ‘smeared’ the booze on. Nice.

Another theory of their production is that as meat was included in the lengthy fasts, that the ‘meaty’ flavours of the washed-rind cheese were a purposeful goal to fill this much missed food. Either way, they knew what they were doing!

Mountainous regions also produced washed-rind cheeses, around the same time. The high altitude and humidity also made for some difficult conditions, only now it was salt to hand, not hard liquor. Cheesemakers here would wipe their cheese with a brine solution, which compared to the monks strategy resulted in a firmer curd. Think Gruyere, a Swiss Alpine example.

We will always have a broad range of washed rind cheeses on the counter, and we will eagerly wax lyrical about all of them.

What to pair with ?

This style of cheese is especially exciting to pair with drinks, as they are so varied and complex.

A solid approach is to pair a food with the drink of the region (think Somerset Cheddar with Cider) and this does follow true with washed-rind cheese. One example is ‘Langres’, a mousy little cheese similar to Epoisses but made in the Champagne region of France - you guessed it, perfect with a glass of bubbles!

Our current pairing of choice, however, would be Orange wine.

Pairings can work for a variety of reasons, but matching in intensity is an important start. Orange wine is bold and complex enough to stand up to such cheeses, and arguably the most complex of all wines. 

Orange wine has an incredible combo of high acids, low alcohol, and phenolics (the peppery and spicy family of flavour compounds) making them a perfect partner for meaty, nutty and rich cheeses. We also like to champion natural and biodynamic wine producers, and their resulting subtle wildness sets them well up for drinking with a bold and funky cheese.

Catch us next time when we will delve into what orange wine is - but for now, enjoy tasting your way around this pairing!

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