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Cold-smoking hard cheese is a wonderful way to add flavor and personality to your cheese. The low-temperature smoking method is used because the goal is not to cook or melt your cheese, but merely to impart added flavor. There are a lot of cheeses that are great candidates for smoking. Cheddar, Colby, Gruyère, mozzarella, and provolone are just a few of the most popular smoked cheeses.
Smoking cheese causes the milk fat within the cheese to rise to the surface, creating a preservative skin on the surface of the cheese. Sometimes, long-term smoking will impart a slightly darker color to the exterior of the cheese. How long you smoke your cheese is up to you: the longer the smoke, the stronger the flavor.
Most smoked cheeses you will see at the market or high-end grocers will be flavored using liquid smoke, which usually makes for a very strongly flavored cheese and a noticeably darker rind and interior. Cold-smoking (without the liquid smoke) will give your cheese a delicate and superior flavor making for a more sophisticated and enjoyable cheese.
Smoking cheese can be done a number of ways. On a large scale, you can build an outdoor cold smoker very easily from things you may already have around your home. You can find plans and directions for building small cold smokers online. You can also use a wood heater if you have one, either by finding a place in the stovepipe where the smoke is cool and rigging up a way to hang your cheese there, or by redirecting the smoke and cooling it before using it to smoke your cheese. On a smaller scale, you can smoke cheese inside on your stovetop, using a wok with a smoking grate placed into it.
The type of wood you use for smoking will determine the final flavors given to your cheese. Choosing a locally available wood native to your region will probably be the most efficient choice, but make sure you know what type of wood you are using, and do adequate research into the nature and smoking quality of whatever type of wood that is. Fruit woods such as cherry, apple, pear, or peach are most popular. You can use nut woods, too, like almond, pecan, or walnut. You don’t have to use just the wood, though; you can use things like nut shells or bamboo, or you can even use tea!
Before you smoke your cheese, dry it overnight in the refrigerator, then let it sit out to warm to room temperature. Keep the surface of the cheese dry. When smoking, whether in a smoker, wok, stovepipe, or any other method, keep a shallow pan of ice-water present, placed directly between the cheese and the smoke source. This will act as a guard against heat, keep the cheese cool, and prevent any melting. Most cheeses need only be smoked for a maximum of 3 hours, depending on your personal preference. Once the cheese is smoked, remove it from the smoker and set it out to air-dry and cool at room temperature. You can then wrap the cheese in cheese paper and place it in the refrigerator. Your smoked cheese will keep for as long as it would have kept unsmoked. Smoking may help it keep even longer, but it also may cause your cheese to be happily consumed faster than ever before!
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