Is It OK to Eat Cheese Rind?
As the popularity of party trays such as charcuterie boards continues to grow, we're all becoming more familiar with seeing cheeses served with the rinds on. There are red waxy rinds; the tuggy, white Brie cheese rinds, the hard, darker-color Parmesan cheese rinds, and other cheese rinds that are almost crust-like made of boldly-flavored ingredients such as espresso powder and rosemary. But just because we're more accustomed to seeing them doesn't mean we've stopped asking our hosts, "can you eat cheese rind?" Well, you can stop asking or wondering if it differs from one cheese to another thanks to these expert insights.
Can You Eat Cheese Rinds?
Kathleen Serino, Assistant Manager of Core Curriculum at Murray's Cheese says this is the most frequent cheese question she gets, so you're not alone in wondering. In short, the answer is yes, cheese rind is edible, but there are a lot of intricacies.
"I know die hard turophiles who eat the rind no matter what—and there are those who mostly avoid them," says Serino. "I enjoy a balanced rind-to-paste ratio, with more paste than rind generally." The term "paste" is the edible center part of all cheese.
All cheese rinds play a role in the flavor of the cheese. "You'll want to take in the full sensory experience that every cheese has to offer," says Suzanne Fanning, Wisconsin Cheese CMO. "For most cheeses, the rind is a key part of that. All cheeses should be served with the rind on unless it is wax, cloth or bark…the flavor profile changes as you get closer to the rind, and as a host, you don't want to deprive anyone of that!"
That said, not all cheese rinds are intended to be eaten, though they are safe to eat. "All cheese rinds are food safe, otherwise they could not be sold in the U.S.," says Serino. (Offering us all some reassurance that it'll be okay if we eat a rind we're questioning.) Some rinds enhance the taste experience while others serve more as a protective jacket for the cheese and are made with materials that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat, she continues.
Fanning uses a "peel test" to determine if a cheese rind is suitable for eating. If the rind comes right off, you can leave it off. "Gouda cheese for example is usually dipped in wax to keep it moist while aging on pine planks, so when it's sold at the store you'll still see the red, orange or yellow wax on it, and it'll peel right off. Some traditional bandaged cheddars are wrapped in cloth and they will peel off those cheeses as well." If you can't take the rind off easily, the cheese rind is edible.
It's a Matter of Preference
"How does the rind look and smell? Serino asks. "The nose knows! A good trick is to take a quick whiff of the rind and maybe even a nibble. Did you like it together with the paste? If yes, then keep enjoying."
One reason to serve cheeses with the rinds on is for a more interactive eating experience. "If you don't like the taste of a natural or washed rind, cut off a piece of the cheese that came from the center of piece of cheese so you can avoid the rind, but generally I always encourage my guests to try a piece of cheese with an edible rind with the rind still intact and then try another bite without the rind on it. You'll get two different flavor experiences." At the end of the day, it's all about personal preference.
If you find you generally don't care for the rinds, find other tasty uses for your food scraps such as adding Parmesan rinds into a simmering soup.
What Is Cheese Rind?
We've clarified that cheese rinds are edible and that eating them is a matter of preference, but what are cheese rinds made of? "In a word—microbes. And all different kinds at that (bacteria, yeasts, fungi, etc.)," says Serino. "A rind develops thanks to the cultivation of beneficial bacteria (we call them cultures) that are introduced to the cheese in various stages to help develop the deliciousness and distinct flavors within. Salt application encourages the formation of a crust as well by regulating the growth of microbes (and keeping the unwanted ones at bay)." The microbe used for each type of cheese can vary.
"Every style of cheese has its own unique rind profile," Fanning says. She explains the types of rinds:
- Flavored rind cheeses: such as Sartori BellaVitano are lovingly created by soaking or rubbing the outside of the cheese with another ingredient like beer, wine, fresh black pepper, or even espresso.
- A washed rind: describes any cheese that was treated with a brine rinse. During the aging process, many cheeses are gently bathed in a saltwater wash, often with added cultures. This technique helps bring out the natural savory flavors of the cheese and introduces funky aromas on the naturally occurring rind that gently diffuse into the bordering cheese.
- Soft-ripened cheeses: have what are called a "bloomy rind" which are a flavorful, textured, and very edible crust. This perfectly-safe-to eat-rind is made from mold and yeast which encourages the cheese inside to ripen. It's also what gives soft-ripened cheeses like Brie their lusciously creamy texture.
- A bandaged-wrapped rind: is made from cloth, allowing cheese to breathe during aging and giving your cheese a drier, more crumbly texture. A bandage-wrapped rind, like the ones found on some varieties of aged cheddar, contributes to the complex flavor and dense, flakey texture of these cheeses. This type of rind is not edible and should be removed before enjoying the cheese. Most cheesemongers at specialty cheese counters will remove this for you so before you take it home.
- Semi-firm cheeses: like Gouda are often dipped into a wax that seals the cheese into a safe home while it ages. Just like any gift, you should take the wrapping paper off first. "While technically food-safe (but still quite inedible), I advise removing a wax rind before digging into whatever cheese you're planning on enjoying," Fanning says.
- Natural rinds: are, you guessed it, naturally formed on cheeses like Parmesan while the cheese ages in a temperature and humidity-controlled room. As time goes on, the rind becomes harder so most people prefer not to eat it. "Before you consider tossing it, I'd use it in my homemade soup and any meals that call for broth to amp up the savory flavors of the dish," Fanning suggests.
The next time you're faced with a cheese tray, remember that cheese rind is edible, but eating cheese rind is up to you. If you like it, eat it. if you don't, don't. And if the rind easily pulls off, it probably wasn't intended to be eaten and won't enhance your tasting experience.