Friday, August 20, 2010

A Word on Rinds

Brawling Cat, Birchrun Hills Farm
I like to say that I’ve never met a rind I didn’t like. Give me your bloomy mold, your orangey washed rinds, your funky gravel carapace around a cloth-bound cheddar. I was raised to eat those things, to fight over them, but I realize not everyone is a rind lover.

This week, par example, I got an adorable email from Cassaundra in California, who wrote:

I’m fairly new to the cheese scene and while I’m figuring out which types I really love, the rind becomes a bit of a distraction. Even after reading up and trying to decipher between bloomy, wash, wax etc…it gets a little murky as to when you should eat the rind and when you should pass.

So here is my advice: eat the rind when it calls to you. Once you start to dig cheese, once weepy wedges of Reblochon chase you in your dreams, you’ll know it’s time. I work with Jesuit priests, who often talk about callings. They’re “men of the road,” as I learned a couple years ago on a pilgrimage through Spain. “We walk until we’re called,” one Jesuit explained.

I try to adopt this come-hither spirit when I’m at the cheese counter. I stare contemplatively at the cheeses, and when one makes sad eyes at me I pick it up. Usually, it’s pretty funky looking, but that’s my taste. Don’t be embarrassed if a real beefcake like Cato Corner’s Hooligan doesn’t call out to you. It’s just not time. But soon....

Keep in mind that bloomy and washed-rind cheeses ripen from the outside in, so the area near the rind has the most flavor. When you sample cheese, try a slice that includes some edgy bits along with some innards. That way, you can taste the full range of the wheel. Some cheeses, like Gorwydd Caerphilly, taste completely different depending on which part of the wheel you sample. Near the rind, Gorwydd is pungent and firm, but closer to the center of the wheel it becomes melty and mellow.

Interestingly, Patricia Michelson speaks to rinds in her fabu book, The Cheese Room (now on my nightstand). She claims that most of the fat in bloomy cheeses gathers in the rind. Can this be true? I happen to love the baby fuzz on a good Brie or Camembert – that rind houses the zippy taste. The oozy center is lovely, too, of course, but I’d sooner blind myself than eat the gooey middle and leave the casing. That would be like eating the marshmallow fluff out of a chocolate egg. No, thanks.

If, like Cassaundra, you are rind curious, allow me to recommend a few teasers. Testun al Borollo is a hard cheese packed in grape must. Highly interesting, even crispy. This, in my book, is a rind worth eating. Cloth-bound cheddar: try toasting the rinds on bread. They soften into something bacony. For Cassaundra, who lives in the great cheese-making state of California, I have one recommendation: Red Hawk. This washed-rind cheese is a nutty cruller; imagine a glazed doughnut with triple-crème filling. Once you nibble this rind, you will receive my own personal Girl Scout Badge that reads, “I eat rinds.”

Because that’s how I roll. With the rinds. I’m just sayin’.


  1. Amazingness. This weekend's mission: Red Hawk! Last night I ate the rind on my Minuet, definitely like you mentioned with some cheese, it had a lot of the flavor in and around the rind. You're the best =)

  2. Let me know what you think of the Red Hawk, C! I'm proud of you for digging into Minuet. A gorgy-porgy cheese, yes. You are definitely getting gold stars.

  3. I'm a rind eater! Some people just don't know what they are missing :)

  4. What a great post! You take the danger out of the rind!