So I admit that sometimes I feel I’ve hit a bloomy-rind bust and that there are no more new cheeses out there. It might not be P.C. to say this about P.C. cheeses -- cheeses exposed to molds Penicillium candidium and camemberti -- but hey, it is what it is and a real curd nerd don’t lie about no cheese.
A curd nerd will, however, lapse into hyperbole for dramatic effect. Yes, I know it’s not true that there aren’t a ton of truly wonderful bloomy rind cheeses out there, but when you have literally -- and after writing about cheese for years I do mean literally -- run through the entire cheese case of every nearby shop with a decent selection in a 20 mile radius, then one gets jaded.
I love a good Herve’ Mons Camembert served with sparkling wine. (The French tradition is to have it with a fruity red wine such as Beaujolais, which I find abhorrent. It doesn’t just muck up the flavor of the cheeses so much as clotheslines it to the trachea.) An oozy slice of Delice du Bougignon is epic and it is by and far my favorite table cheese of all time. If you can get real Brie, which you can’t in the United States due to a bunch of helicopter parent laws, then by all means indulge in what is some of the truly greatest cheese ever.
But, still, sometimes you want something just a bit different. Something that tastes of oyster mushrooms, wet earth, and has a lactic tang that makes your mouth smack with each bite and coats the tongue in a sour paste that sends a static shock through your palate.
I have found a few of those if you’re curious, but we’ll get to that.
First let’s have a class discussion about what exactly makes a bloomy rind cheese a bloomy rind cheese.
Answer: It is the cheese’s bloomy rind.
But what creates a bloomy rind?
Remember when I talked about the P.C.s? Penicillium candidium and camemberti? These two molds are penicillin molds related to the mold Penicillium chrysogenum -- the mold that Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered was a phenomenal antibiotic drug that has since saved millions of lives. (Sadly, the strains of penicillin used in cheese making is not anti-bacterial, and, thus, Camembert is not a cure for a staph infection.) However, this also means that even if you’re allergic to penicillin you may not be allergic to bloomy rind cheeses.
These molds love oxygen, a bit of water, a fat and protein-rich surface, and dry conditions -- all of which cheese caves deliver. These molds produce digestive enzymes that consume the fats and proteins in milk and break them down -- essentially spoiling the cheese. Done in a very controlled way this broken-down milk and ever-growing colony of mold develop into a flexible, white crust around the cheese. The paste of the cheese undergoes protein breakdown making it supple and spreadable and encourages those delightful flavors of mushrooms, butter, garlic, and wet hay.
When these cheeses go too far, however, the cheese becomes ammoniated. A little bit isn’t too bad, a lot of this smell means the cheese is no good and has spoiled beyond a level of safe consumption. (Pro Tip: It will also taste like middle school: harrowing and frightful.)
An older bloomy rind cheese may also become soggy and grow unwanted molds if it’s been sitting too long in one place as cheeses like to be flipped to evenly distribute their water. If you find a bit of fuzziness, fear not, just cut those parts off. Really, it’s cool.
So, now that we know what makes a bloomy rind cheese and which ones to eat, let's discuss some novel examples that you should seek out.
Kunik: A good puck of Kunik should never be passed over. This is a decadent triple cream cheese -- meaning it has 75% butterfat content -- that will leave you swooning with it’s buttery and incredibly rich flavor. Made by Nettle Meadow up in New York state this cheese is unique in that it is composed of both goat’s milk and Jersey cow cream. The result is a bloomy rind with a unique flavor that is both beefy and tangy.
Lille: The Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company is responsible for Lille. It comes in a large wheel and in a tiny little wheel-ette that is so adorable you’ll want to just eat it in two huge bites. There is nothing wrong with that except you can’t linger with it, but feel free. You’ll find the taste to be buttery, nutty, great on crackers, and perfect with a lighter beer.
Nocturne:Andante Dairy's cheeses are as delicate as they are famous in the cheese world. Getting a piece of your own from the Petaluma champion dairy is a challenge as many high-end restaurants such as The French Laundry often snatch them all up for their own cheese plates. Bold, tangy, and intensely mushroomy, this squat little pyramid of cheese is always willing to please. The cheese is also lightly dusted with a vegetable ash -- a common practice in bloomy rind cheeses -- used to impart a mellow flavor and protect the cheese during aging.
Neufchâtel: The only Old World cheese on this list comes from Normandy, France where it has been made since the 6th century. I list it because if you’ve never had it before, well, then it is a new cheese to you. Like a good hookup, it's worth seeking out. Neufchâtel is arguably the world’s first cream cheese and as such its favorite place to be is on a bagel where the salty, button mushroom flavors can settle down with some smoked fish and perhaps a dash of freshly chopped chives. Also, it is produced in the shape of a heart and that is frickin’ awesome.
Most of these cheeses can be found at your local cheese store. However, your local cheesemonger can also point you to some stellar alternatives.