Fromage Knowledge: Why Is There Ash In My Cheese?

Jul 12, 2013 1:31 pm

It's delicious, looks cool and serves a purpose

why is there ash in cheese?
Photo: grongar on Flickr
Several French cheeses have a coating of ash to help the mold create a flavorful rind.

Any true cheese enthusiast has surely encountered an offering with a line of ash in the middle or even an ash coating. If you've never witnessed this trick of the trade, here's the reasoning behind this unconventional-sounding addition — and a few of our favorites to try for yourself.

Back in the day, cheesemakers would coat "unfinished" cheese that still had milk to be added the next morning with smoky wood or vegetable ash, in order to keep it from spoiling by soaking up excess moisture, and to increase the pH to allow the beneficial mold to bloom. (It also just kind of looks cool, which likely didn't factor into its origins.)

For certain types of cheese (French morbier in particular) the layer of ash became a traditional part of the cheesemaking process. Nowadays, plenty of dairy folk cheat by dying a gray stripe between cheese layers, so search out a cheese with AOC certification to make sure you're experiencing the real deal.

Other ash-spiked cheeses besides morbier you should seek out:

  • Humboldt Fog
  • Sainte Maure
  • Selles sur Cher

So add it to your cheese plate and practice your cheese-ash-related pickup lines well before the party.

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