I like to say I’ve never met a rind I didn’t like. If I’m at a party and I see people trimming off the edges off a Brie, I always want to tell them not to cut off the tastiest part – but usually I just snag the leftovers for myself and slip them into my handbag (you can toast those Brie rinds later at home on baguette rounds, then add a drizzle of honey). Here’s what I want you to remember next time you confront a funky wheel:
Cheese rinds are actually the most flavorful part of a cheese.
Should you eat every rind you meet? Well, not if there’s a wax coating. Or a foil wrapper. But most rinds are fair game, and being able to “read rinds” will help you understand what kind of flavor you can expect when you bite in.
In honor of Halloween, allow me to present a few of my favorite “Franken-rinds” and explain how the rinds of these cheeses contribute to taste.
1. Sticky Orange Rinds
If you like bacon, all you have to do is sniff around for a damp lump the color of a sunset. A cheese with a sticky orange surface is in a family of “washed rind” cheeses. The style was developed by Trappist monks who discovered that if they rubbed a little beer onto the surface of their cheeses, a friendly orange bacteria appeared, called brevibacterium linens. B-linens makes cheese taste beefy, even bacony.
Beefy flavor was appealing to Trappist monks, who rarely ate meat due to their vows of poverty. Pair a beefy B-linens cheese with a Trappist ale, and quite naturally, you’ve got a heavenly match. Generally, the brighter the rind , the more intense the flavor. For example: Epoisses is a stinkpot, and Taleggio is not.
Try these sticky orange beasties:
- Hudson Red
- Epoisses (pictured above)
2. Brainy rinds
A delicate fungus called Geotrichum can make soft goat cheese look like a sharpei puppy. The surface of Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche, for example, is madly wrinkly. Brainy cheeses are almost always made from goat’s milk – and that brainy crust ensures that the paste underneath will be silky in texture and tangy in taste. If you know someone who likes bright, citrusy flavors, slip a brainy rind into their treat bag.
These ghostly cheeses can be downy white or gray – just know that the gray coloring isn’t from mold. That’s actually a layer of vegetable ash. Goat cheeses are often rolled in edible ash to neutralize their acidity. It was popular to do this in France long before there were Goths.
Try these brainy creepers:
- La Tur (pictured above)
- Bonne Bouche
3. Drunk Rinds
If you’re not afraid of purple cheese or scabby crusts, ask for Testun al Barolo, a cheese from Piedmont that is coated with pressed grape skins from wine making. The grape skins (and seeds) add an unusual texture and infuse the cheese with a pleasant boozy sweetness.
If you can’t find Testun al Barolo, ask for Ubriaco, which literally means “drunkard.” Its rind should be the color of a maroon bruise. The wheels are marinated in barrels of wine for months to infuse the paste with winey flavors. Ubriaco was invented by accident. In Italy, there used to be a tax on cheese, so cheesemakers hid their supply in wine barrels when the taxman came around. Over time, this became a popular style of cheese, even after that tax was dissolved.
Try these drunk rinds:
- Testun al Barolo (pictured above)
- Ubriaco Chianti
- Ubricao Merlot
4. Leaf-wrapped Rinds
For autumn, few things are more festive than a cheese that has been rolled in leaves. You find lots of these beauties this time of year, from oozy Robiolas rolled in Chestnut leaves to wild blues bundled in boozy grape leaves. Try a couple of these on a Halloween cheese board, and your guests will have fun unwrapping them and guessing what they might taste like.
The exterior can usually be eaten on these cheeses, unless the leaves are dry and unappealing. I like to serve leaf-wrapped cheeses with toasted walnuts and jam or kumquats.
Try these leaf-wrapped cheeses:
- Chestnut-wrapped Robiola
- Valdéon (blue cheese, pictured above)
For more scary cheese, please visit Madame Fromage.