Have you ever wondered why anything grilled, charred or smoked is often perceived as more delicious? Is it an innate preference stemming from our primal ancestors or do we unconsciously seek visual cues on our food, such as grill marks or a coloured rind, to confirm that it's cooked? It could be a way of validating that we have harnessed the power of fire. Cheese isn’t any different.
While some smoked cheeses are made with liquid smoke or smoke flavouring, which are of lesser quality, the finest smoked cheese is made using a cold or hot smoke process.
The process of cold-smoking cheese involves smoking small chunks of cheese in a smoker for several hours. Cheese chunks should weigh a pound or less. Some recommend leaving cheese out to come to room temperature before smoking.
To infuse a smoky flavour, hickory or applewood chips can be used. Smoked pepper jack is especially delectable as the spiciness of jalapeños blends with the creamy cheese.
Cold smoking involves placing a tray of ice in the smoker and laying the cheese chunks on top of it. This setup allows the smoke to permeate the cheese without causing it to become too warm and melt. This method is a smart invention. In contrast, alternative methods entail having a separate cheese area away from the heat source and utilizing a vent to allow smoke to access only the cheese area.
At Mountain America Jerky, a distinctive approach is taken for smoking their cheddar and pepper cheese. The cheese is smoked warm at an extremely low temperature while hickory wood sawdust permeates through the smoker.
The slices are cut into the salmon and the slice is in the shape of a 'D'. Each slice salmon is then carefully layered on top of each other in order to recreate the look of the original, uncut side.
Once the smoking process is completed, it is important to store the cheese in plastic wrap within a zip lock bag in the refrigerator for a period of 2 to 4 weeks. This allows the smoky flavour to mellow and penetrates the cheese. After a few weeks, the cheese is ready to be served with crackers, fruit, meat, or even chocolate.
How to Cook with Smoked Cheese
One easy and tasty dinner idea is to make a smoked cheese quesadilla. Begin by caramelizing a large sweet onion and then placing it in a tortilla. Add a few generous handfuls of grated smoked cheddar on top and serve it with avocado or guacamole on the side. This delicious dish is full of smoky and browned flavours and is sure to impress even your vegetarian friends.
Another way to showcase the flavour of smoked cheese is by making a gourmet ham and cheese panini. Simply layer slices of spinach, smoked cheese, and ham on crusty bread brush with olive oil, and sear on a pan for 2 to 3 minutes, making sure to do both sides. To enhance the taste, you can have a fig spread on the side.
If you haven't had the chance to taste smoked cheese yet, it's worth a try. Smoked cheese has a unique flavour that true cheese aficionados love. And if you're already a fan, that's fantastic!