Everyone’s heard of smoking meat, but chances are good that most people only think of smoked cheese around the winter holidays, what with those meat and cheese gift baskets. Cheese may seem like an unconventional thing to smoke but there are actually several advantages when smoking a piece of cheese, some of the more notable among them would be the following.
- You get to try familiar tastes in a new light.
- You save money you might otherwise spend in the specialty deli section because you are making your own fancy cheese.
- You can make your own gifts for friends, family and coworkers.
The Best Wood For Smoking Cheese
The biggest stumbling block to smoking cheese, other than accidentally tripping over a dropped chunk of cheddar, is confidence that it can be done. The good news is that there are a wide variety of cheeses that take well to smoking. Any sort of hard or semi-hard cheese is a perfectly suitable for smoking. Examples of viable cheeses include the following:
- Any variety of cheddar. Go the extra mile and consider cheddar that has spicy peppers, like jalapeños and habaneros, mixed in.
- Hard mozzarella.
- Blue cheese.
- Pepper jack.
When it comes to the wood you use to smoke your cheese, it is a good idea to consider smoke flavor profiles that complement the cheese. Some good standards to consider include the following:
- Apple wood.
- Hickory, especially when paired with cheddar or other strong cheeses. Many say that hickory imparts a bacon-like flavor to smoked cheese.
- Sugar maple for when you want to add some sweetness.
- Pecan. Pecan is also notable for giving a bacony-flavor to smoked cheeses, like hickory can.
- Oak, for the similar purposes as hickory.
A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Smoke Cheese on a Grill.
The first tip is to plan to look at the weather. You want to smoke cheese on a day that will not reach higher than 60ºF. Warm temperatures can increase the chances of your cheese going from a smoke to a melt.
Cut the rind away from whatever cheese you plan to smoke and then chop it into small wedges and 2″x4″ blocks. If you prefer soft interiors and smokey skin, then break up your cheese into larger sizes.
If your cheese happens to have been chilled, bring it up to a room temperature while wicking away any moisture that results from the thawing. dried cheese yields better skin.
You will be using a tube smoker for this process, roughly a foot tall. If you lack a tube smoker, you can use a large can like what you might have after emptying the contents of a can of pineapple slices.
Load the smoker with your ideal wood for the cheese you intend to smoke.
Light the smoker as its instructions say, or do a quick search for this detail if going with the improvised approach and place the tube smoker into your grill. Make sure that its flame is put out and the smoke is light yet continual in output.
Place your bricked and wedged cheeses onto your grill’s grates, making sure to keep them away from touching the sides and exposed to air flow. Close the lid and allow the wood smoke to go to town on the cheese. Two hours is a good waiting time, too much smoke and the cheese can develop an overwhelming level of smokiness. If you only want a mild smokiness to your cheese, give it one hour. It is also worth mentioning that softer cheeses require less time than hard ones to reach an appropriate level of smokiness; if most of what you have on the grill is on the soft side, consider veering closer to 1 hour and change than a full 2 hours.
It is crucial that the smoker never gets above 90ºF. You want to smoke the cheese, not melt it.
While 1-2 hours is recommended for a complete smoke, it is also important that your cheeses become fully exposed to that smoke. Do your best to rotate the cheese every 15 to 30 minutes. This will ensure that no one side becomes more smoky than the others.
If you want to check to see if the cheese has been sufficiently smoked, remove a piece from the grill and give it a smell; if what your nose detects smells downright satisfyingly smokey and delicious, the cheese is done smoking. You cannot go by appearances; no newly home-smoked cheese is going to look like the stuff in holiday gift baskets. It’s also worth noting that the presence of moisture on cheese will cause smoke to cling to it far more than dried cheese, to the detriment of that cheese’s initial flavor.
When time’s up on the smoking process, remove the cheeses from the grill and wrap them up in paper, either parchment or untreated butcher’s paper; these are materials that allow them to breathe.
Place the wrapped cheese into your refrigerator for one to two days.
When time is up on the fridge, take the cheese out and vacuum seal it. If you lack a vacuum sealer, you can use a resealable freezer bag and simply push out all of the air within the bag. One trick to removing the air from such a bag is to submerge all but its zipper in water, push up to expel the air, then zip up the bag. Feel free to take a bite as you bag up your cheeses for long storage, you’ve earned it.
Take a marker or something else that can leave a mark in your sealing bags and label each bag with the type of cheese it contains and also feel free to write down the date of the original smoking.
Put the bagged cheeses back into your refrigerator and give them a fortnight, that’s two full weeks, 14 days. Managing to stop yourself from indulging in your cheese before this time elapses will provide enough time for even the most initially-acrid of cheeses to have its smokiness more evenly distributed throughout the entirety of the cheese, resulting in a different, yet still-mellow flavor.
Serve your smoked cheese however you want: sliced up for sandwiches, crumbled up for salads, paired with crackers, the list of options goes on and on.
It is not hard to smoke cheese on a grill, you just need to have some confidence in your abilities, a willingness to wait for good things, and the good fortune of picking a cool day to start the work. All that stands between you and a pile of delicious, smoked cheeses is 15-16 days and a vigilant watch that the smoker does not get above 90ºF. If you can muster those skills and abilities, the only other limit to how much smoked cheese you can have is your supply of smoking wood. Smoked cheese is a delicious and infrequent treat for most, which is why you can easily urn an opportunity to smoke some cheese into a way of making presents for those you care about during the winter holidays-or any other holidays for that matter.