Sunday, November 29, 2015

Smoked Cheese

This isn't quite homebrew but for just about as long as I've been brewing I have been smoking, plus this should get me back in the habit of posting again.  I've been brewing all year (and updating my kegerator) but I haven't formally reviewed anything and I've come to realize that I became the brewer I am today by reflecting on each beer here on this blog.  Without that review I too often forget about what Ive done and learned.

Much like I love beer I am someone who also loves great food, but who doesn't right?  In particular I am a lover of very strong, potent cheeses. Blue, Gorgonzola, Gruyere, aged Goudas, smoked cheddar, everyone of them, and the longer aged, the more stinky and potent the more I love them.

However my favorite thing about any really well aged cheese is the little crunchies that develop inside!  If you don't know what I'm talking about I really suggest going out and getting your hands on a piece of a well aged cheese like Uniekaas Robusto, or if you have a Costco near you, lately I've been finding Tilamook 5yr extra-sharp cheddar there.  Both cheeses are quite good and have these amazing little crunchy pieces in them.

All that aside, one of my favorites for everyday eating is a good smoked cheese. It can be just about any type (cheddar, Gouda, provolone, mozzarella, etc, etc.) I love them all!  Unfortunately I haven't had much luck finding good everyday ( = reasonably priced) smoked cheese around me.  Most I find at the store are either under-smoked or worse they use fake smoke flavoring (one of the worst things to happen to food in a long time).  If you want smoke flavor, smoke it!!!

Lucky for me the winter chill (18F right now) is really starting to set in, and this really makes its a good time to smoke some cheese!  From what I've been told/read it is necessary to keep the temperature below 90F when smoking cheese (done want it to melt after all), but I've always done it when the temps are well below that.  I like to keep the smoke very cool (~60F or less) and the winter temps really help.

When I smoke cheese the other thing I like to do is use pellets.  Pellets make smoking cheese very easy, though the smoke tends to be a bit lighter in flavor.  This is relatively easy to overcome (smoke longer) plus it really helps to provide a buffer when your just starting out, (oversmoked cheese tastes pretty bad = ashtray).  I've smoked with many types of pellets but prefer fruit wood or oak for smoking and I just about always use Green Mountain pellets (stay away from Traeger), but otherwise use whatever brand you feel comfortable with.  I use an A-Maze-N tube for smoking cheese, its a tube of perforated stainless sheet that's about 6in long, one load lasts roughly 2hrs (perfect length of time for me)

The actual smoking is pretty straightforward, but to get it right you have to do a little prep work and be patient once the cheese is done. Below I've listed my normal method for smoking cheese, there has been some trial and error and this method is definitely dialed in to my taste buds.  For your first go at this I would suggest using cheaper cheese that way you get a feel for it first.  I would also suggest getting a couple cuts of roughly the same size (same cheese) and smoking for different lengths of time.  This way you can really dial in what you fairly quickly.

Smoked Cheese
  • Bring cheese up to around room temp or so (60F-ish)
    • Rub with paprika if you want
  • Thoroughly clean the top grate of the smoker (no big black chunks)
  • Start smoker
    • Use pellets (fruitwood or oak, avoid mesquite)
    • Light them with a propane torch - No lighter fluid!!!!!!!!
      • Let them burn (open flame) for at least 5 minutes - you want a nice cherry in the middle
    • Place the smoking pellets in bottom of smoker (I actually use a clean Weber Kettle for this)
  • Place the cheese on the rack and smoke for 30 minutes to 2 hours
    • Time depends on wood type, cheese type and thickness, and finally your palate
    • Keep the cheese below 90F (I prefer around 60F or less)
    • Flip the cheese halfway though to get nice smoke lines on both sides! In my Weber the top always seems to darken more than the bottom
  • Pull off of smoker and rest on counter for about an hour
  • Dry any sweat off of the cheese (happens more at higher smoke temps)
  • Cover and place in refrigerator for 1-2 days (I use a small tupperware)
    • Check periodically to make sure that no more sweat develops
  • After the time in the fridge, vacuum seal the cheese and forget about it for a couple weeks (time really helps to smooth out the flavor)
  • Enjoy! - but make sure and take notes to make it even better the next time

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