Strike it Rich: Bloomy rind cheeses are silken, complex joys

Truly good cheese is one of those luxurious foods that, like wine, is constantly changing, rewarding diners with complex flavors, aromas and textures. Perhaps the most indulgent of all cheeses are those that belong to the bloomy rind, or soft-ripened, classification. These cheeses ripen from the outside in. On their exterior lives a soft pillow of (usually) white, edible rind, which is produced by exposure (usually by sprayer) to Penicillium candidum.

“When you’re buying the cheeses, what you want to pay attention to is the rind,” said Simon Lehrer, cheesemonger at The Wine Merchant in Clayton and Creve Coeur. “You want to see the rind so you know that it’s not completely dead. [If it’s dead], it won’t be bloomy and white. It will have layers of yellow or deep crevices in it that are gray or off-colored. Avoid ones that are wrapped in cheese paper unless it’s a whole wheel and you know that it’s very fresh.”

As a bloomy rind cheese ages, the mold will eat its way into the center, changing the cheese’s texture and making it soft and runny. Cheeses that aren’t fully ripened will often exhibit a fresh, chalky center, which the French refer to as “the soul of the cheese.” If a bloomy rind cheese has been mishandled or aged to the point that the mold has begun to die, it will give off an ammonia-like aroma. “They will all have a light hint of that, but when you open it up, it shouldn’t be like you just opened up a jar of cleaning solvent,” Lehrer said. “You don’t want to get that [ammonia] flavor. When you taste the cheese, it should not be harsh and stinging on your palate. It should be creamy and soft and you should get all the flavors that combine and melt together.”

To best enjoy these buttery cheeses, avoid crackers and instead reach for a loaf of freshly baked bread. “Fresh bread is the best foil for any of these cheeses,” Lehrer said. “Crusty French bread is as much texture as you really want. If you like that firmer texture, use the crust of the bread. The soft center of a freshly baked loaf of bread just pairs so well.” Apples and pears are a natural match, but avoid citrus fruits. “Citrus fruits and Bries have a bad interaction. The mold actually reacts with the citrus and you get off flavors.”

Wine, of course, is practically necessary when eating cheese, and Lehrer had some advice on what wines to look for. “Acidic wines don’t work. Traditionally, Bordeaux [is best]. Lots of people think ‘a buttery, rich cheese, I want to do a buttery, rich Chardonnay,’ but it oftentimes really doesn’t work. You want to go with a big, red wine. The one exception to that rule is the triple creams and Champagne. You put the two together and the richness of the cheese is cut by the effervescence of the Champagne.”

France, cow’s milk, The Wine and Cheese Place

Leslee Hayden, cheese manager at The Wine and Cheese Place in Clayton, said that “Explorateur was actually created in 1958 and named after the rocket Explorer, which is still pictured on the label.” She added that this triple cream cheese “checks in at exactly 75 percent butterfat content.” This incredibly velvety, smooth cheese has a bold, rich flavor.

France, cow’s milk, The Wine and Cheese Place

Hayden said that this triple cream was “named after the food writer, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the man who recommended eating cheese at every meal.” Best served with fresh fruit and a sparkling wine to cut through its richness, “this cheese is very mild when it is fresh” and “can develop a pronounced tangy flavor when aged.”

Old Chatham Camembert
New York, sheep’s and cow’s milk, The Wine Merchant

Made in one of the first artisanal dairies to open in the U.S., Old Chatham rewards you with rich, complex flavor courtesy of sheep’s milk. The Wine Merchant’s cheesemonger, Simon Lehrer, said that this cheese “is really mushroomy. When you taste it you think of white button mushrooms. As it ages out, the rind adds a spicy, peppery flavor.” He added that “because of the addition of the sheep’s milk, it doesn’t break down into the stratified layers that you see in the Constant Bliss. It stays pretty constant throughout and has a much whiter color than any of the traditional cow’s milk Bries.”

Constant Bliss
Vermont, cow’s milk, The Wine Merchant

This is one of the few raw-milk bloomy rind cheeses made in the U.S. Because any raw-milk cheese has to be aged at least 60 days according to U.S. law, this cheese is much thicker than its European counterparts. “Just inside the firm rind, you’re going to get into a really creamy, soft area,” said Lehrer. “At the center there will be a little chalkiness left because the mold hasn’t eaten all the way into the cheese yet, so it’s going to have more of that fresh curd flavor and a chalkier texture.”

Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
California, goat’s milk, The Wine and Cheese Place

With a layer of vegetable ash running through its creamy white center and under the white rind, Humboldt Fog is a distinctive American cheese. “This cheese tastes like cream with a tang of almost lemon flavor,” Hayden said. “It is a great match with a Sauvignon Blanc like the Sbragia [Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc] from California.”

Brie de Meaux
France, cow’s milk, The Wine Merchant

“That is what Brie should really taste like,” Lehrer said. “The Brie de Meaux has more of a fresh hay flavor to it, which is really interesting and really special.” This Brie, when fully ripe, will ooze outside of its rind onto your cheese platter. “At room temperature it should just melt, and when it hits your palate, it should cover your palate and you should continue to taste those heavy oils.”

Germany, cow’s milk, The Cheesekeeper

“It’s Camembert, which is French, mixed with Gorgonzola, which is Italian, and made in Germany,” said Diane Hamilton, owner of The Cheesekeeper in Belleville. During the manufacturing process, the cheese curd is injected with the same mold that produces Gorgonzola, resulting in a mild cheese that’s punctuated with blue tang. “The blue is sharp and the Camembert mild, so the two of them together meld well. Pinot [Noir] is good with this. It’s a great dessert cheese, too.”

Saint André
France, cow’s milk, The Cheesekeeper

This ultracreamy, sweet, earthy cheese is well-known and can be found on many a cheese plate. Hamilton said that she enjoys sampling this small-batch cheese throughout the year. “Depending on the time of year, the flavor of the cheese will change. This cheese probably ages two months, so the cheese will taste different at different times of the year because of what the cows are eating.”

Monte Enebro
Spain, goat’s milk, Whole Foods Market

This cheese gets its dark rind from Penicillium roqueforti, which is used to make Roquefort. “This is one-guy cheese. There’s a guy that makes this with his daughter outside of La Mancha. It’s very, very creamy and chèvre-like inside with yummy, oozy stuff around the outside,” said Melanie Coffey, assistant cheese buyer at Whole Foods in Brentwood. “The older that it gets, and the closer that you get to the rind, you get an earthiness, mushroomy-ness. This is a great red wine cheese. The roqueforti bacteria gives the cheese an autumnal flavor.”

La Tur
Italy, cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk, Whole Foods Market

“Because of the blend of milks, there are layers and layers of flavor,” Coffey said. The ripe, oozy layer under the rind is silken on the palate, giving way to a chèvre-like paste on the interior. “The goat gives it a tangy finish, the sheep’s milk gives it more depth because sheep’s milk is higher in fat.” La Tur is from the Piedmont region and pairs well with Pinot Grigio, she said.

L’Edel de Cleron
France, cow’s milk, Whole Foods Market

This mild, soft cheese is packaged with a band of dark brown spruce bark, which lends its aroma to the wheel. “This is a good entry-level cheese,” Coffey said. “It’s interesting, very lactic, very creamy on the palate and mild in flavor. It’s a good party cheese, a good cheese for crowds. Everyone’s going to like it.”

France, cow’s milk, Whole Foods Market

Supercreamy, rich and slightly acidic, this famous cheese should be enjoyed at all stages of ripeness, from young and chalky to aged and perfectly runny. “This is made in the same region that they make Champagne, so it’s a natural companion to the cheese,” Coffey said. “It’s a triple cream. The flavor profile is kind of tart, and the rind is a bit salty. If you get a yeasty Champagne, it makes a great companion.”