It’s one of the most frequent questions we get when we teach cheese tastings: How do you know when to eat the rind of a cheese?
After all, some cheeses, like creamy burrata, tangy chevre, and snackable block cheddar, don’t have any rind at all. But plenty of our favorite cheeses—lush Camembert, funky Taleggio, savory Parmigiano—do have an exterior coating or crust that’s different from the paste inside.
Luckily, figuring out how to tell whether a rind is edible is pretty simple, and we have a handy tip to help you figure out which cheese rinds to eat. But first, what exactly are cheese rinds?
What Are Cheese Rinds Made Of?
While the smooth, snowy coat on a wedge of Brie might seem homogeneous, rinds are actually the result of successive layers of microbes like molds, bacteria, and yeasts working their magic on the outside of a cheese.
But not every cheese develops a rind. The exterior surfaces of cheeses dipped in wax, like many Goudas and some aged cheddars, don’t come into contact with air thanks to that waxy coating, meaning that these microbes can’t develop. The wax on these wheels should be removed before eating.
The other exceptions are cheeses aged in vacuum-sealed plastic. While many commodity-scale cheeses (your supermarket cheddars, for instance) are aged this way, this technique is also used by artisan makers to produce certain internally ripened cheeses. In this case, there’s no rind to worry about, and the entire cheese can be eaten.
How Do Cheese Rinds Form?
The exact microbial populations on a naturally aged cheese—a bloomy, washed, or natural rind wheel—shift and change over time, and the types that grow depend on how the rind is treated. For example, molds will dominate on a natural-rind cheese, while applications of salty brine on washed rind cheeses create the perfect habitat for certain salt-loving bacteria and yeasts.
In the case of bloomy rinds, the culture is often applied directly during aging to help the rind form. The molds grow to cover the exterior surface and break down the fats and proteins in the cheese from the outside in.
Which Cheese Rinds Can You Eat?
First, I’ll give you the short answer—a cheat sheet you can use the next time you’re meeting a new-to-you cheese in a style you recognize. Then, I’ll share the guiding principle that you can use for any cheese, whether you know its provenance or not.
Note that some cheeses are aged wrapped in cloth or leaves. While not technically the rind of the cheese, these coatings should be removed before eating. Cheeses rubbed in ash also tend to have edible rinds.
Cheese Types with Edible Rinds
The rinds of these styles of cheese are safe and delicious to eat:
- Bloomy rind cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Trillium
- Washed rind cheeses like Taleggio, Epoisses, and Lissome
- Natural rind cheeses like Tomme de Savoie, Bayley Hazen Blue, and Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar
Cheese Types Without Rinds
Some cheese styles are made without rinds, so the entire cheese is edible:
- Fresh cheeses like chevre, fromage blanc, and quark
- Brined cheeses like feta and halloumi
- Fresh pasta filata cheeses like mozzarella and burrata
- Rindless, internally-ripened styles like block cheddar and American Swiss
Cheese Types with Inedible Rinds
Some types of cheeses have inedible rinds. These include:
- Waxed-rind cheeses like Goudas and cheddars
- Very long-aged natural rind cheeses like Parmigiano or Queso Invierno Extra Aged
Note that although parm rinds shouldn’t be eaten “raw,” you can definitely use them in cooking! Keep them in an airtight container in your freezer and add them to soups and stews for an umami boost, or save up a stash and make parmesan broth.
How Do I Know Which Cheese Rinds to Eat?
Here’s my rule of thumb for deciding whether to eat a cheese rind. As long as the cheese rind doesn’t fall into that last category—wax-coated or so hard you couldn’t really chew it—it’s up for eating.
I recommend you make it a habit to taste the rind of any new cheese you meet to see if you like it. Rinds can bring unique flavors, aromas, textures, and appearance to a cheese, and they can really enhance your experience. The flavors and aromas of a natural rind are an expression of the unique cave environment in which it was aged, which is certainly something to be savored.
But if you try the rind and you don’t like it, no sweat—you don’t have to eat it! Eating cheese should be enjoyable and delicious, and if a particular rind just isn’t your thing, that’s okay.
Many natural rinds, for example, don’t bring a ton of flavor or texture to the party—they’re just kind of musty and chewy. It’s totally fine to trim them off and focus on the paste if that’s what you prefer. Now that you know all about which cheese rinds are edible, you’re ready to conquer your next cheese plate with confidence!
What are your favorite cheese rinds? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and let us know!
I have a question about cheddar. I buy the large 5-pound blocks of Tillamook cheddar and sometimes in the fridge it will start developing the white coating on the exposed sections. I’ve been eating it lately so hopefully it’s okay. It hasn’t killed me yet. :)
Can you eat the rind of Jarlesberg cheese?
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