||10-08-2012 10:17 AM
It Ain't Easy Bein' Cheesy - List Your Smoked Cheese Tips Here
With fall in the air, and the holidays right around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about smoking cheese. It's possible cheese could be the easiest thing to smoke - heck, it's ready to eat right of the package and a little smoky flavor can add just the right bump to something we often take for granted ("uhhh, do you want cheese with that?"). So, I thought a thread where we can all chip in some ideas, things to do & not to do, tips, tricks and even some ideas for using your smoked cheese. If you have a favorite smoked cheese story (like opening the smoker only to find all your cheese melted into the drip pan) let's hear it!!
Here are the 4 basic things I think are important.... Start with quality cheese, keep your smoker (or smoke chamber) as cool as you can, take it easy on the smoke, and understand what mellowing is all about. I can break these down a bit further.
1. Tillamook brand cheese is my favorite for smoking, and I buy the 2 pound bricks as the are easy to slice into manageable blocks.
2. I prefer cool days and will move my smoker into the shade, or use an ice tray below the cheese to keep the smoke cool. If my cheese gets too warm, I will move it into the fridge to cool it down then return it to the smoker. To much heat will sweat the milk fat to the surface, so after you turn your cheese, look at and smell your fingers... If they are oily and smell strong, your smoker and your cheese is too warm. If you see a noticeable color change, or if the cheese starts to deform.... your smoker and cheese is too warm.
3. My current favorite smoke generator is a A-Maze-N tray which uses sawdust, however I used a Big Chief electric for 25 years. My secret with the Big Chief was using the small chips in amounts of a couple of tablespoons at a time..... unplugging the smoker every 15 or 20 minutes..... and either rigging a box smoke chamber on top.... or using blocks to keep the the top lid open about 1/2". I have not tried the tin can and soldering iron method.
4. Cheese is dense and needs time to take on smoke. If the smoke is too heavy you will get a bitter layer on the outer surface. You want a light smoke for several hours.
5. Mellowing allows the smoky flavor to even out and become smoother. However, you should be able to sample your cheese throughout the smoking time, and it should be edible without any mellowing. and remember the outer layer will have a stronger flavor. Most importantly, different cheeses have different absorption rates, and the size of the blocks will make a difference. Mellowing can be from 2 days to 2 weeks or longer, so about 12 hours after smoking I will sample it and make a mental note of the flavor. This allows me to guesstimate a reasonable mellowing time. Sometimes after the sample it's not smoky enough... no bid deal, give it another smoke session. Shelf life is in your favor, smoked cheese lasts a long while.... well, sometimes it does.
6. I keep good notes including, outside temps, smoking wood, smoke time, and flavor observations at 1 day, 3 days and 5 days. I also jot down comments from folks I give some to.