The Big Cheese
Don't turn up nose at unctuous bloomy-rind cheeses
Some, on the other hand, need a little more explanation. These include your washed-rind, soft-ripened and surface-ripened cheeses. The latter two can be put into a broader category
called bloomy-rind cheeses.
Most of these bloomy-rinds are soft, spreadable cheeses, such as brie, camembert and triple-crme. More specifically, they're bloomy soft-ripened cheeses. Often, these cheeses are
described as unctuous and decadent. What makes them bloomy-rinds is, in fact, a bloom-looking rind, which is almost like a second skin on the cheese. It varies in appearance, whether
the cheese falls into the soft-ripened or surface-ripened.
With the exception of triple-crmes, which are cheeses that have cream added to them during the cheese-making process, most soft-ripened "bloomies" often will become oozy on the
inside, looking rather, forgive me, mucous-like. This might seem suspect to many on-lookers, but this, my friends, is pure cheese heaven to many of us. Really, it's just aging. These
cheeses actually become softer with age while most of your cheeses become harder with age because of the loss of moisture.
Why is this? Well, the exterior "skin," or rather mold, is actually a protective layer keeping out bad things and allowing moisture to remain, breaking down the cheese over time and making
it softer. This exterior mold, penicillium candidum, is added or sprayed onto the cheese during the cheese-making process.
Their flavors are often called mushroomy, creamy, buttery or milky.
Great soft-ripened bloomy rinds to try are Fromage de Meaux, the closest thing to real brie you can find in the states. Real Brie de Meaux is unpasteurized and is not aged enough for
United States' import laws, so the pasteurized version was created under the name Fromage de Meaux. It's a tasty cheese, but most say there's no comparison to the real stuff.
Other great soft-ripened cheeses are Brillat Savarin, a fabulous decadent French triple, Mt. Tam (my current obsession from California's Cowgirl Creamery), as well as California's
Humboldt Fog, an amazing goat's milk bloomy from our friends at Cypress Grove Creamery.
These cheeses are great with a toasty baguette and a nice glass of sparkling wine, but also are great incorporated into a dish. Try Saint Andre, another French Triple-Crme, in your next
mac and cheese, or Lake Erie Creamery's Blomma, a hockey puck-sized goat bloomer slightly grilled along side some grilled peaches and plums.
These cheeses have a short shelf life, 15 to 30 days. If an aroma of ammonia develops, their time is up.
Surface-ripened bloomies are clearly visually different from our soft-ripened pals. To begin with, they are generally small cheeses, often no more than 6 ounces. While they also have a thin
"skin" layer, their exteriors look wrinkly or like little brains. These meandering crevices develop from a yeast called geotrichum candidum, which can already coexist naturally where the
cheese is made or be added in the beginning of the process. They are considered either firm or creamy.
These cheeses texturally look very cool on a cheese plate, while their flavors vary depending on the milk or milks used. They usually are described as chalky, tangy, creamy, tangy, floral or
One of my favorite cheeses is a surface-ripened cheese from the Piedmont region of Italy called La Tur. It's a creamy-style surface-ripened cheese that reminds me of a cheese cupcake,
while The Murray's Cheese Handbook likens it to tasting like gelato without the sugar. Cow, sheep and goat's milk are used to make this heavenly gamey-smelling cheese.
Others to try are the goat Crottin, both the original from France, Crottin de Chavignol and California's Redwood Hill Creamery's version are worthwhile. One little 3-ounce gem is great
centered on a bed of greens, fresh herbs, toasted sunflower seeds and pickled beets drizzled with a simple vinaigrette.
In life, as with cheese, looks can be deceiving. It's what's on the inside that counts.
Wendy Hunsinger is the specialty-food manager for Katzinger's in German Village.