Cheese rind refers to the outer layer or "skin" that forms on the outside of cheese during the aging and ripening process. For many cheeses, the rind is a natural and edible part that contributes flavor, texture, and protection.
Rinds develop in controlled environments as cheese ages, forming a protective barrier. This allows the interior cheese to ripen from the outside in, often resulting in soft, creamy textures.
Not all cheeses have rinds. Fresh cheeses like mozzarella and chèvre do not age long enough to form them. While most rinds are edible, some cheese coatings like wax and cloth are not meant to be eaten.
Three Main Types of Cheese Rinds
There are three main types of edible cheese rinds that provide unique flavors and textures:
Bloomy rinds have a distinctive white, downy coating that comes from spraying mold spores onto the cheese surface. As Penicillium candidum mold grows, it forms the rind and contributes flavors like mushrooms, wet earth, and fresh bread.
Washed rinds form when cheeses are bathed in brine or alcohol during aging. This encourages Brevibacterium linens bacteria to grow, creating sticky, orange rinds with robust aromatic profiles.
The flavors washed rinds provide can be described as beefy, oniony, or barnyard-like. Enjoyable levels of funk make these rinds fully edible on cheeses like Taleggio, Munster, and Epoisses.
Natural rinds occur when the cheese's surface dries out as moisture evaporates during aging. This causes rinds to become thicker and harder in texture over time.
Common natural rind cheeses include Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Gouda. Although edible, their texture can be unenjoyable. Instead, natural rinds shine when added to dishes like soups and stews.
Main Purposes and Functions of Rinds
Beyond flavor, cheese rinds serve other important roles:
- Protect interior paste from drying out or absorbing other flavors
- Allow gases to escape during ripening processes
- Prevent mold growth on non-bloomy rind varieties
- Provide enzymes that breakdown fats and proteins
- Contribute to unique textures and buttery or oozy centers
- Concentrate aromas and tastes not found in the cheese paste
So while rinds may seem unappealing at first glance, they are integral to overall cheese quality.
How to Eat Cheese Rinds
The edibility and enjoyment of cheese rinds ultimately comes down to personal preference. There are no strict rules.
For bloomy and washed rinds, start by tasting a bit on its own, then with the cheese paste. See if the flavors meld together or provide an interesting contrast. Discard any rinds that are too ammonia-like or separate easily from the cheese.
With natural rinds, try grating extra hard pieces to use as seasoning. For softer versions, leave rinds on for a cheese plate then neatly trim off any unwanted parts after serving.
Key Takeaway: Cheese rinds provide protective aging environments. While edible, enjoyability depends on aroma, texture, and separating from the cheese.
Using Up Leftover Cheese Rinds
Instead of throwing out leftover bits of rind, put them to use by:
- Tossing rinds into soup stocks for extra richness
- Blending into smoother dips like beer cheese fondue
- Infusing into warm milks for cheese-flavored drinks
- Mixing with butter to make flavored spreads
- Freezing for future use in the above applications
Hard, dry rinds also make excellent chew toys for dogs! This gives them a special treat while helping clean their teeth.
Are cheese rinds safe to eat?
Yes! Unless covered in wax or other coatings, cheese rinds are edible and non-toxic. They form naturally through fermentation and aging. Of course, any rinds that appear contaminated or smell unpleasant should not be consumed.
Why do some cheeses have "no" rind?
Young, fresh cheeses don't spend enough time aging to form a protective rind. Their high moisture also makes rind development difficult. Vacuum sealing blocks rind formation but allows slower ripening.
Most rindless cheeses include mozzarella, cottage cheese, ricotta, and cream cheese. Their texture stays smooth and consistent throughout since no rind concentrates specific flavors.
What causes "white mold" on cheese?
White, fuzzy mold growth on cheese surfaces comes from bloomy Penicillium candidum added by cheese makers. This edible mold contributes the distinctive flavors, runny textures, and mushroom-like aromas in bloomy rind cheeses.
Contrary to appearances, these velvety white rinds indicate well-aged cheese when still slightly attached to the interior paste. Ammonia odors, dark colors, or sliminess signifies spoilage.
Can you eat the wax coating on cheese?
No, you should not eat the wax coatings on cheese. Wax is applied to cheese like Gouda and Edam to seal moisture as it ages. It helps the wheels retain shape and provides some antibacterial properties.
While technically food-grade, wax coatings are not digestible. Always remove wax, along with paraffin or vegetable coatings, before enjoying the cheese inside. The same applies for cheesecloth bandages on Cheddar varieties.
What causes blue, black, or red mold on cheese?
While white surface mold is intentionally cultivated, other colors like blue, grey, black, or red indicate undesirable microbial growth. These should not be consumed and can signal defects during production, storage, or ripening.
Blue or grey molds particularly relate to cheese spoilage and can create bitter, chemical-like flavors. Reddish hues differ from washed rinds by appearing dry, velvety, or powdery on the cheese exterior.
Can you reuse cheese rinds?
Yes! Trimmings from harder cheeses make excellent additions to simmering stocks, lending extra savory notes. Natural rinds also work deliciously blended into dips or crisped into crackers.
For stronger washed rinds, try infusing milks and butters. And even dogs relish certaincheese ends as healthy treats. With some creativity, don't let any leftover bits go to waste!
Despite seeming unappetizing at first glance, cheese rinds provide integral protection, nutrients, and flavor during the aging process. Understanding the different types of edible rinds can help cheese lovers fully enjoy their fromage from crust to ooey-gooey center!
By starting with small taste tests of bloomy, washed, and natural varieties, you may discover new aromatic depths and textural contrasts. And with some handy repurposing ideas, even the scraps can find new purpose in your kitchen.