Cathy Strange’s role as global cheese and specialty foods buyer for Whole Foods Market® puts her in the unique position of travelling the world to not only discover and encourage the world’s great cheesemakers, but also to help advance the artisanal food movement and investigate the world’s emergent food trends. If a new preparation technique is causing ripples in Berlin, or a centuries-old curing tradition is gaining a foothold in Seattle, Cathy knows about it.
When I shop for food, I like to shop with my nose, and nowhere is my nose more fully engaged than in the cheese department. Many of us have vivid memories (smell has a way of making memories more vivid!) of our first encounter with that pungent, earthy and yes, stinky cheese aroma. That unmistakable “stinky feet” smell unique to washed rind cheeses foreshadows the wondrous flavors and aromatics you’re about to experience.
A World of Washed Rind Cheeses
Washed rind cheeses range in texture from soft to semi-soft to hard, and can come in any size from a small wrapped mini-cylinder to a good-sized wheel. There is one thing, though, that unites all washed rind cheeses — B. linens bacteria (Brevibacterium linens for the biologists out there). B. linens is omnipresent — on your skin, in the air and the soil. Washed rind cheeses are bathed or washed in a solution containing or receptive to B. linens and then the magic starts. A sumptuous reddish-orange rind develops and, with it, pungent aromas.
Washed rind cheeses ripen from the outside in, so this rind — of varying hardness and thickness depending on the amount of washing — conveys its depth of flavor and aromatics deep into the cheese, creating some of the most distinctive cheeses the world has to offer. The bacterium lowers the acidity in the cheese, so you’ll find more creamy, earthy notes, and fewer sharp flavors.
Narrowing down the world of washed rind cheeses to just a few recommendations is no easy task, but let me tell you about three.
Emmi Le Gruyère Reserve: This washed rind cheese is one of the world’s greats. Made in Switzerland and hand-selected for Whole Foods Market®, this cheese is on the harder side and displays a rich, earthy nuttiness. The buttery flavor pairs with peppery, complex red wines like syrah or mourvèdre.
Tallegio: Semi-soft with pungent aromatics, this Italian washed rind charmer is comparatively mild in flavor with fruity notes. The thin rind is edible and adds a piquant edge. You can taste why it’s been a favorite for over a thousand years! Soft enough to spread on a crostini, it pairs nicely with a lighter red like pinot noir.
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk: Made with organic milk from Marin County in Northern California, this soft triple crème is a true washed rind delight. The rind can be creamy orange to milky brown and fills the room with grassy, hay-like aromas. Decadent creaminess and a silky texture support full, savory flavors. Pair with something dry, tart and bubbly.
Try shopping with your nose next time — you might be surprised at the cheeses it leads you to!
What’s your latest washed rind cheese experience? I’d love to hear about it.