The Cheese of the month for November is washed rind. These are cheeses where the rind is washed with a solution, usually brine but sometimes wine, beer or fruit juice. The liquid moistens the rind and promotes the growth of bacteria which impart flavors to the cheese. The bacteria also impart aromas to cheese. Some of the bacteria are similar to ones found on the human body and some washed rind cheeses have been described as smelling like feet or BO (there is even one called “Stinking Bishop”).
Washed rind cheeses are thought to have originated in monasteries. Monks found that washing the cheeses imparted meaty flavors, so the cheeses were like a substitute for meat.
I first became aware of washed rind cheeses in the early 90s. I was a cheese novice and was in graduate school. This great professor I knew had just come back from France with a stinky cheese in her bag. She was trying to get people in the department to taste the cheese. But no one wanted to taste this super smelly cheese. Except my future husband and I who were adventuresome eaters. "This is the best cheese in the world. It's called Epoisse. You have to try it". So we tried it. Our first impression was that the cheese did not taste at all like it smelled. The flavor was not as strong as I imagined and was not at all funky or stinky tasting. It was like fondue made with a really flavorful yummy cheese. I loved the silky texture and the salty rich umami flavor. A few years later I started working in Berkeley and heard about this great cheese store called the cheeseboard. On my first visit I saw Epoisse. I got excited because I thought that this was a cheese you could only get in France. I brought one home and we loved it and I started trying other washed rind cheeses. I have been hooked since.
Many people shy away from washed rind cheeses because of a perception that they are too strong and stinky. Unless they are over ripe and ammoniated, washed rind cheeses like Epoisse are not that strong tasting. I have read in descriptions of washed rind cheeses that their bark is worse than their bite. This is true. As I found with my first taste of Epoisse, the cheeses might smell stinky but they don't taste stinky. There are also mild washed rind cheeses that don’t stink as much.
Some of these cheeses might be harder to obtain than others. I have several recommendations but if you can’t find them please substitute another washed rind cheese. Or if there is one you especially love that I have not listed please tell us about it. I encourage people to look on online sites like igourmet (http://www.igourmet.com/) which has a very nice selection of washed rind cheese.
Also please report on beverages that you pair withy these cheeses. Many of these cheeses are washed with wine, beer or cider so experiment.
Certain washed rind cheeses, the ones meant to be soft and pungent, are sometimes sold under ripe and hard. If you like milder cheeses you might actually like the more under ripe versions better. But the more ripe versions are much more flavorful and represent what the cheeses are really about. To really appreciate these cheeses you need to try the ripe versions. If one seems hard, you can try to age it in your fridge or a couple weeks. For last month’s COTM I bought a half piece of cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam. It was very hard when I bought it. I let it sit in my fridge for two or three weeks and it softened up a bit and started to develop a more liquidy layer under the rind. When I finally tried it was great. Here is some advice from Delucacheesemonger from last month’s discussion for a way to age Red Hawk:
“l buy them when there and invariably they are as hard as a baseball as W(t)F ages nothing in the aging room, l worked at three of them and the one in rural Toronto (Mississauga) did, but the two in the states did not. Keep cheese whole and open 2-3 weeks past the sell by date and usually works and turns into goo.”
So people might want to stock up on thee cheeses now and allow them to age a couple of weeks in the fridge if they seem very hard.
I am going to try something different with how the thread is organized. The purpose will be to try to keep the discussions on a particular cheese grouped together so they are easier to follow. I am going to add each suggested cheese as a reply to this post. When discussing a particular cheese, reply to post for that specific cheese. If you are discussing a cheese not included in the suggestions introduce it with a reply to this original post. I am not sure if this system will work better but we can give it a try.