As sizeable as the Alps, so is the first question asked by most… “Can we eat the rind on this?” It therefore seems appropriate that our first blog sets to unveil the truth behind the rind.
Rinds are the outside shell of cheeses that are formed during the cheesemaking process and fall into two categories. They are usually edible, or organic, as opposed to inedible or inorganic. Examples of the latter would be wax, cloth or leaf wrapped cheeses but for now we’re going to focus on the three main types of rind found on our Alpine cheeses; bloomy, washed and natural and the story they tell us.
Although most of our cheeses do have an edible rind, the question about whether you wish to eat it still remains. For many people, the look, texture or smell of a cheese rind is enough to make them reach for the cheese knife, here’s looking at you Tomme Fermière. As strikingly beautiful as this particular cheese’s rind is, with its intricate multicoloured mosaic of salmon pinks, vivid yellows, chartreuse greens and paint chart of greys, not many of us fancy tucking in. Why is this?
The Tomme family of cheeses falls into the first of our three categories, with them having a characteristic bloomy rind. Tomme de Savoie, a pressed cheese and most well known of them all, makes quite the first impression. With a grey bloomy rind, stamped with its iconic name spanning the whole 20cms diameter, there is no mistaking this cheese. Get up close and personal and you will start to notice the mushroomy aromas emanating from the rind. As with all Alpine bloomy rinds, they are dictated by life on the high pastures. Made in family cheese chalets, depending on who has walked past the chalet, the weather, what flora thrives around the perimeter and the materials which buildings have been made out of, all influence the rind’s thriving microbial community. This in turn influences taste and appearance, as these microorganisms on the outside produce enzymes that break down the fat and protein within a cheese’s interior. A wonderfully simple example of just how intertwined the environment is with our cheeses.
Returning to Tomme de Savoie, all these influences work their magic over the course of the two to four month maturation, resulting in the distinctive thick, grey and bloomy rind you see. Despite being one we recommend cutting off due to its rather bitter and musty flavour, with heady notes of grass and summer, the rind transports us straight back to our favourite pastures.
By having control over the surface moisture, salt content and pH, cheesemakers influence and control rind production. Our next type, washed rinds, show this particularly well.
As soon as you mention washed rind cheeses to the team, minds are instantly transported straight to the Haute-Savoie and the commune of Thônes. This is the capital of Reblochon and Chevrotin production, one cow’s milk and the other goat’s milk, these are two of the most iconic washed rind cheeses in the Alps. This class of cheese is easily recognisable by its orange to pink coloured exterior. Reblochon, the cheese of Tartiflette, is no exception with a very attractive pale salmon pink supple rind.
Washed rind cheeses need a higher humidity, higher levels of salt and higher levels of ammonia for the most common of their bacteria, brevibacterium linens. After the cheese has been moulded and formed, the maturing process begins. It is during this time that the Alpine washed rind cheeses are washed twice a week with both brine and local Savoie wine. As with the bloomy rinds, this reminds us of the intimate connection between the local terroir (the natural environment including the soil, topography and climate) and their produce.
As well as their colourful, thick rinds and meaty taste profiles, washed rinds are infamously known for their hit you round the face aroma. If you have forgotten to carefully wrap your Chevrotin, the pungency that is consuming your fridge can be traced back to the bacteria that are busy producing sulphur compounds as they grow. As unappealing as these rinds may now sound, they are completely edible, velvety smooth and many would argue, us included, that they are part of the cheese’s addictive appeal.
For quite the opposite rind reaction, we move onto our final type, natural rinds. With one of your favourite cheeses as an excellent example, Beaufort Été.
It is this, the king of Alpine cheeses, that on tastings we like to shake things up and suggest eating the rind first. Perfectly edible, these rinds are simply dried cheese formed from the hand salting each morning and afternoon and being left to mature for a minimum of 6 months in cool mountain cellars. This eventually gives the cheese a smooth ivory to brown rind with an intense caramel and nutty taste profile. It is for this reason that we encourage you to not disregard it. Along with the pate of the cheese, grate natural rinds into dishes for an incredible depth of flavour.
We carefully inspect all of our cheeses to ensure that those with a natural rind, are free from cracking. Any cracks into the rind can enable oxygen to penetrate into the cheese, leading to unwanted blueing. Desirable in a natural rind blue such as Bleu Fermier Coutard but not so in a Beaufort.
The world of cheese rinds is as complex as the microbiological worlds that dictate them. However, we hope that this has given you an insight into feeling better prepared to enjoy your next wedge of our finest French Alpine cheeses.