What Makes a Natural Rind Cheese
Natural rind cheeses are semi-firm to firm pressed curd cheeses that have been aged in open air in a cheese cave. Fresh wheels of pressed curds are usually given an initial brine (salt-water solution) or dry salt rub on the exterior, and then are flipped once a week to promote even maturation on both sides of the cheese. The exterior of the cheeses are often rubbed with a cheese brush, which controls the development molds from overtaking the rind. The rinds are often brown and silver in hue, with a mottling of white to brown molds. Some popular natural rind styles are French-style tommes, like tomme de savoie or American counterparts like Twig Farm Goat Tomme (above) or Treadway Creek (below). The rinds on natural rind cheeses are edible - and they often have a flavor of the cave - an earthy, musty, deep mushroom flavor.
Origins of Natural Rind Cheese
Each cheesemaking country has its own styles of natural rind cheeses - and since the category is very broad, there are many stories on how this style of cheese began. Essentially, natural rind cheese is the most simple way to age pressed wheels of cheese with minimal maintenance except the flipping and brushing of the wheels.
Sub-category of Natural Rind - Dry Rind
These are cheeses rubbed in lard or oil during the aging process, creating a thin layer of protection and controlling mold growth. Examples of this are Parmigiano-Reggiano (oil-rubbed) and Clothbound Cheddar styles (traditionally lard-rubbed).
Factors That Effect Ripening
Cheese mites are commonly found on natural rind cheeses, and can be identified as the microscopic organisms resembling brown dust particles that make their way into the natural rind of the cheese (see Mimolette cheese rind below). It is often a mystery how cheese mites find their way into a natural cheese cave - a sealed and sanitized cave is as likely to have them as a rustic cheese cave would. The mites love the cool, damp atmosphere of the cave and can actually contribute to the final texture and flavor of the cheese by digging additional holes in the rind for more aeration. The best way to control the mites is to brush and flip the cheese once a week, and clean the cheese cave aging shelves regularly.
Natural rind cheeses require high humidity so that their rinds do not become too dry and crack. During the aging process, 90 to 98% humidity is ideal.
Best Way to Store Natural Rind Cheese
The Cheese Grotto was designed specifically with this style of cheese in mind. The Cheese Grotto provides that balance of humidity, airflow, and natural materials to allow specialty natural rind cheese to thrive, even when it is a cut wedge. You'll notice the rind will keep developing if the Grotto is stored on the kitchen counter or in the fridge.
If the Grotto is out of your budget currently, we recommend you consult the 3 Best Ways to Store Cheese article!
How to Serve Natural Rind Cheese
It is always recommended to let your cheese come to room temperature before you enjoy it. The experience is so vastly different, it is a shame to do otherwise. And, of course, serve the cheese with its beautiful rind full of flavors of mushrooms, minerals, and earth - it's nature's compliment to the paste of the cheese and it is interesting to taste both with and without the rind to see what you enjoy most.
Pairing Food and Wine with Natural Rind Cheese
Natural rind cheese often pairs well with white to medium-bodied red wines. If the natural rind cheese is more grassy and melt-able, go ahead and pair it with a funky white wine or a light-bodied red. If the natural rind cheese is more dense, aged, and nutty, then the natural rind cheese can often stand up to a medium-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah.
Garrotxa cheese rind, featured above.