An Expert-Approved Guide to Cheese Rinds, Including Which Are Safe to Eat
If you're not eating the rind, you're missing out.
When the cheese plate comes out, do you avoid cheese with rind because you aren't sure what to do with it, or do you eat the cheese but leave the rind behind? Depending on the type of cheese, eating the rind is safe and can add to the flavor experience. Amanda Parker, managing director of California's award-winning Cowgirl Creamery, shares what rinds are edible, what to avoid, and what to expect with that first bite.
Why Are People Wary of Eating the Rind?
In most cases, the rind is going to be the strongest part of the cheese. "It's a pretty substantial flavor and has a distinct look apart from the rest of the interior of the cheese, and as such, we've been trained to think that it perhaps should not be consumed," explains Parker.
What Are Cheese Rinds? How Do They Form?
At their most basic, cheese rinds are the exterior of the wheel of cheese that has been most exposed to air and ambient microbes. Parker says, "In other cases with cheeses like brie (in what we call the bloomy rinded family) and cheeses like Taleggio (that are part of what is called the washed rind family), the cheesemaker or the affineur (the person managing the aging process) intentionally adds cultures to the milk at the beginning of the cheesemaking process." They do this to encourage rind formation. That means that the white, puffy rind that develops on the outside of a Brie or a Mt Tam is a combination of the cheesemaker's adding a mold spore at the beginning of the cheesemaking process and time and "the care the cheesemaker takes to encourage the development of that lovely, white, thin, supple rind that most of us love to eat so much."
Which Types of Cheese Rinds Are Edible?
Parker most often recommends consuming the categories of cheeses that have rinds with thin, supple textures (mostly bloomy rinded cheese); anything like a brie, camembert, or triple cream cheese will have a white, fluffy, or wrinkly rinds.
Washed rind cheeses like Taleggio—or anything in the funky, slightly stinky category—can be eaten, but while these cheeses can have rinds that are edible and supple they tend to have residual salt crystals in them which can be a bit gritty. Eating them or any cheese with a firmer rind is a matter of personal preference. "If a cheese has a rind that's dark and crusty, it's not a problem to eat it, but it'll have a more mineral, earthy flavor which can sometimes put people off," Parker says.
Should We Eat Them?
"Yes, it's an interesting opportunity to taste how multi-faceted cheese is," Parker says. "It's part of the experience." She gives the example of the Cowgirl Creamery cheese Red Hawk, which has one of her favorite rinds; the cheese is creamy, buttery, and supple in texture and flavor. Its rind can be a nice complement, both by breaking up the texture and offering something more acidic or earthy to pair with that butter and cream inside.
What Type of Cheese Rinds Should Be Avoided?
Anything that isn't an organic material, like wax or cloth, which is found on aged Gouda and aged Clothbound Cheddars, should be avoided. Parker also explains "In some cases, cheeses like Manchego, or cheeses that are shiny on the rind actually have food-grade paraffin wax on the outside, so I would recommend steering clear of those types of rinds."