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How and Why is Cheese Smoked?

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How and Why is Cheese Smoked?

Smoked Mozzarella

Photo by Jennifer Meier
Question: How and Why is Cheese Smoked?
It's quite possible that smoked cheese was accidentally made for the first time thousands of years ago in a small house with an wood-burning fireplace. This fireplace kept the house warm and was also used to heat milk during the cheesemaking process. While the cheese was stored on shelves or in cupboards before being eaten, the continuous smoke from the fire gave the cheese a smoky flavor.

Today, cheese is smoked on purpose, usually to affect the flavor of the cheese. But how, exactly, is cheese smoked?

Answer:

How is Cheese Smoked?

These days, many types of smoked cheeses are smoked in smokers rather than by a wide-open fire. The smokers waft smoke over wheels of cheese as they age on racks. Some cheesemakers use small smokers. Others, like Rumiano Fine Natural Cheese, build walk-in smokers that accommodate larger quantities of cheese. A cheese can be lightly smoked, so the finished product has a very subtle smokiness, or heavily smoked.

The smokers used by most artisanal cheeses are fueled with natural wood. The type of wood used affects the flavor of the cheese. Apple, oak, hickory, chestnut and alder wood are frequently used. The Mozzarella Company smokes their mozzarella over pecan chips. Rogue Creamery uses hazelnut shells.

Instead of actually smoking cheese, liquid smoke can also used to give cheese a smoked flavor. Liquid smoke often adds an overwhelming smokiness with few nuances of flavor, which is why most artisanal cheesemakers favor using real smoke.

Interested in smoking your own cheese at home? Check out this discussion about smoking cheese on the About.com BBQ site.

Why is Cheese Smoked?

Smoking cheese imparts a unique flavor, especially when done by a gentle and experienced hand. Rather than overwhelming the flavor of the cheese so that it only tastes "smoky", smoking a cheese can add subtle nuances of meaty, earthy, toasty flavor.

Smoking also helps preserve cheese. This was especially valued before any kind of refrigeration was invented, but even today, cheesemakers might smoke a cheese because they like the way it preserves the cheese and affects the maturation process.

Examples of Smoked Cheese

Cooking with Smoked Cheese

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