What the heck is a washed-rind cheese?

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

What the heck is a washed-rind cheese?

No, there are no power washers, hoses, or bath towels involved… Saxelby Cheesemongers is here to demystify that stinky and elusive category of cheeses called washed-rind, or, to the cheese geek, smear-ripened.

You can spot (or smell) a washed-rind cheese from a mile away in a cheese shop. They have distinctive orange or reddish rinds and tend to range in texture from soft and supple to downright gooey. The coloration of the rind comes from a helpful little bacteria called b-linens, or brevibacterium linens. These same little bacteria are the culprits responsible for their pungent odor.

But how do these little b-linens appear in the first place?

Well, washed-rind cheeses are cheeses that are naturally not very acidic, meaning that the environment on the rind is perfectly predisposed for the growth of b-linens. When the cheese is young, it is washed, usually with a saltwater brine, but other tasty liquids such as beer, brandy, or eau de vie can be used. When I use the term washing, I mean that the cheese is literally rubbed down with a small amount of liquid, just enough to moisten the surface. This makes a perfect little habitat for b-linens to grow and proliferate, spreading their stinky little gospel across the surface of the cheese. From thence forward, the cheeses are washed a few times a week until fully ripened and ready for market.

All those b-linens have been working hard… it would only be right for us to show them a little love and chow on some stinky washed-rind cheeses.

Primo examples in the washed-rind, smear-ripened category include:

Cato Corner Farm Hooligan (raw cows’ milk. Colchester, CT)

A delightful little bomb of funk from Mark Gillman and Liz McAlister’s cellar. Washed twice a week with brine, Hooligan picks up nutty flavors as well as notes of fermented fruit.

Lazy Lady Farm Barick Obama (pasteurized cows’ milk. Westfield, VT)

Laini’s done it again. And this time to a Democrat. This little brick o’ cheese is a decadent treat. Smells like asparagus! For real! And tastes just as buttery and funky as can be.

Jasper Hill Farm Winnemere (raw cows’ milk. Greensboro, VT)

Whoo doggy! This cheese is just about as ripe as they come. Washed with strong Belgian ale, and bound in spruce bark. These forces of nature combine to make a cheese that is runny and puddlesome, with woodsy, smoky, and robust flavors. Get it while it’s hot!

Saxelby Cheesemongers Voted Best Cheese Shop
New York Magazine Best of NY 2007!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s