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Ashes to Ashes: What is Ash-Ripened Cheese?

I’ve been feeling dramatic about ash ripened cheeses. What with this year’s FDA cheese ash tension, I decided it was time to praise the ash for all its form and function. If you hadn’t heard, there was threat to eliminate ash from cheese making practices for food safety concerns. The FDA is frequently concerned with practices that don’t mimic pre-existing industrial scale agriculture methods, and they seem to have neither the funds nor the time to sustain a vested interest in traditional forms of cheesemaking. I recommend watching the Fermentation episode of the Netflix series, Cooked, to learn more about this.

The ash applied to cheese once came directly from a fire. The history of ash in cheese making goes back hundreds of years as a method to protect the surface of young cheese. It was later discovered that the ash improved the growth of the surface molds on fresh cheeses during ripening.

In Loire Valley, France, grape vine clippings were burned to cover the vast selection of the region’s goat cheeses. It is now mainly made from salt and vegetable ash (vegetables that are dried and turned into ash). The ash is sterile and odorless, but I do like to believe a subtle hint of minerality can be tasted.

Amazing cheese photographer Sarah E Crowder and I decided to feature ash in all its moody, artistic, chromatic glory. Like a fine Renaissance painting, hands were incorporated in photos, covered in ash. These hand photos are similar to an artist at work with charcoal in their studio. Now you tell me: Should we limit the use of ash in our cheese? You know my answer: No. We must preserve our traditions and the artistry of cheese making practices for centuries to come.

Jessica with ashy cheeses

Ash-ripened cheese, 1

Ash-ripened cheese, 2

Ash-ripened cheese, 3

Ash-ripened cheeses, 4

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