Hi There Cheese Freaks.
You all have such good questions. I'm very proud of you. Please keep them coming! If you really would like to participate but you aren't sure where to begin, go to my cheese blog at http://caseophile.blogspot.com. Chances are, in the contents of my ramblings you'll find something about cheese that makes no sense. :-D
So this week's question comes all the way from Berkeley, California. (Coast-to-coast cheese!) California has some very nice artisan-made cheeses, including Bravo Farm's Silver Mountain.
Could you please give me a not-only definitive, but truly USEFUL answer to the eternal question of whether or not we are "supposed to" eat all the rind when we are noshing on a fine wedge of brie?
A little rind can taste nice, of course. But sometimes there is so MUCH of it... especially at the edge of the wedge. Yuck! But trying to cut it away seems to waste so much of the actual cheesy goodness inside... and that's bad too!
I've also noticed that some brands of brie have much thicker rinds than others. These very thick rinds sometimes seem like I should NOT be eating them... like maybe they are even poisoning me or something. This puts me in a Real Cheese quandary, because I love brie beyond all rationality, and eat it all the time, rind and all. But I really am a health-fiend too, so this question of whether or not my favorite cheese is potentially poisoning me actually does keep me up at night!
I hope you can help me with this. I look forward to your enlightening response.
Sincerely, Brie Hound
Dear Brie Hound,
Of all the cheese issues I've dealt with in my long career, few cause as much anxiety as The Rind.
The rind is the outside part of the cheese, otherwise known as the crust. Think of it like you would the skin of a fruit or vegetable.
Not all cheeses have rinds, and not all rinds are edible, but the ones that are not considered edible will not poison you. That would be very irresponsible of a cheesemaker!
There are some people who insist all rinds are not only edible, but must be eaten. If someone says something to you like, "But that's [the rind] is the best part!" you have my permission to think of them as an amateur and a dilettante. The "best" part of anything is the part YOU like best.
Specifically, the rind one finds on the exterior of Brie is absolutely edible. There's nothing inherent in it that will harm you unless you are lactose-intolerant or have very extreme allergies. That said, you don't have to eat it. I'm the Cheese Snob, and if that means anything, let it be known that I myself seldom eat the rind of cheese; I simply don't care for the texture of most rinds.
The rind on the outside of Brie is integral to its recipe. Brie, as well as Camembert and countless other cheeses, is a soft-ripened cheese, and it has what is known as a "bloomy rind" because the rind is made of blooms of mold. That cottony fluff of white is penicillium candidum, and it causes the paste - the inside of the cheese, the part that we like to eat - to become softer as it matures.
Generally, the younger the cheese, the thicker and fluffier the bloomy rind. The rind of a well made soft-ripened cheese will remain attached to the paste; if it appears to peel off of its own accord, the cheese either wasn't made very well, or wasn't handled well in transit - maybe there was a lot of fluctuation in temperature, or it was - gasp - FROZEN.
Here are a few more things to help you select a good soft-ripened cheese:
-If the paste looks very soft and oozing, ask to smell the cheese before purchasing.
If it smells earthy, buy that cheese and eat it within a few days - it's a point or at its peak.
-If the cheese at any point in its life takes on a strong aroma of ammonia, throw the cheese away. Don't bother trying to trim it or anything. It's spent.
-As with all cheeses, let soft-ripened cheeses get to room temperature before serving. That'll usually take at least a half-hour.
I hope my answers have given you some peace of mind. Nobody should experience any anxiety over cheese!