Why is it that grilled, charred or smoked anything is perceived to be more delicious? Is it our inner cave man/woman calling the shots or do we subconsciously like to see some sort of mark on our meal (a grill line, a colored rind) to know that yes, it is indeed cooked. Perhaps it’s a visual validation that man has mastered the use of fire.
Cheese isn’t any different.
Some lesser quality smoked cheeses are cured with smoke flavoring or liquid smoke but a true smoked cheese goes through a cold or hot smoke process.
The cold smoke method involves smoking chunks of cheese in a smoker for a few hours at a time. Cheese chunks should be relatively small, like a pound or less. Some say to leave cheese out to return to room temperature before smoking.
Hickory chips can be used to create a flavorful smoke; apple wood chips also work well. Smoked pepper jack is incredible as the smokiness makes the jalapeños pop in the creamy cheese.
The cold smoking method refers to a tray of ice that is placed inside the smoker, with the cheese chunks placed on top. This allows the smoke to penetrate the cheese without the cheese getting too hot and melting. Whoever thought of this was very clever. Other methods use a cheese area separate from the heat source, with a vent allowing only the smoke into the cheese area.
Mountain America Jerky uses a unique method of smoking its cheddar and pepper cheese warm at very low heat with hickory wood sawdust wafting through the smoker.
After smoking, the cheese should be kept wrapped in plastic wrap in a zip lock bag in the refrigerator for 2-4 weeks. This allows the smokiness to mellow. After a few weeks the cheese is ready to be enjoyed on crackers, with fruit, meat or even with chocolate.
How to Cook with Smoked Cheese
A delicious and fairly easy dinner is a smoked cheese quesadilla. Start by caramelizing a large sweet onion, toss into a tortilla and grate a few good handfuls of smoked cheddar on top. Serve with an avocado or guacamole on the side. It is smoky browned goodness and will impress your vegetarian friends.
Another recipe where smoked cheese takes the spotlight is a fancy ham and cheese panini. Layer crusty bread with slices of ham, smoked cheese and spinach, brush with olive oil and pan sear 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve with a fig spread.
If you haven’t tried a smoked cheese before, give it a go. True cheese lovers go bananas for smoked cheese. If you are a smoked cheese connoisseur, that’s great! Please share your favorite recipe. Bon appetite!