Who it's for: Great for anyone who wants a good understanding of those smooshy cheeses under the white rinds.You need cheese? What's the occasion? Birthday, wedding, baby shower, bad day at work, passed your eye exam, paid off the braces? Well, it really doesn't matter because this cheese will be the perfect guest at any of these worthy events. Get to know the life of the party: bloomy&brainy cheese!
The bloomy&brainy Cheese Type
The bloomy&brainy cheese category is also called soft-ripened or surface-ripened.
This category of soft cheese ripens from the outside in with either a fluffy bloomy rind or a delicate wrinkled brainy-looking rind. Just inside the rind you will likely find a creamline that will gradually ripen the whole body (middle) of the cheese (paste) for a warm mushroomy or a tangy yogurt-like taste (read more about the rind and creamline in our Parts of Cheese lesson). A fully ripe cheese in this category may not have an evident cream line and will just be fully creamy. You can definitely eat this style of cheese at all levels of ripeness, you just may like some levels better than others.
Cheeses in this category include:
- Humboldt Fog
- Mt. Tam
- Four Fat Fowl
- Delice de Bourgogne
- Fromage d'Affinois
The rind of this cheese is meant to be eaten. The cheese maker has taken the flavor of these rinds into account when developing the cheese. However, you should never feel like you must eat the rind. Many people, even very experienced cheesemongers choose not to eat the rind. No rind shaming here.
Cheese Etiquette: If you don't want to eat the rind, be a dear and still slice your share of the rind off for your serving, put it on your plate and then cut away the rind. No one likes the look of a brie on a platter that just has the sad dug out rind remaining. It's a little like putting your chicken wings back on the serving platter.
Like most cheese categories, you will discover cheese from all 4 milk types here. In general, you can use this guide to help you find a milk type you like (or ask your favorite monger for a taste!)
- Sheep's milk is Saltier
- Cow's milk is Creamier
- Goat's milk is Tangier
- Buffalo milk is Fattier/Creamier
There are lovely variations in this category from young brie (bloomy) which can be bright and lactic (milky tasting) to a fully ripe Camembert that is earthy and mushroomy. You can also try double and triple cream bloomy cheeses which have extra cream added into the cheesemaking process and creates a buttery and super creamy cheese that can be life altering (sorry not sorry.)
The brainy rinded cheeses have a tangier taste thanks to the particular fungus that is used in the cheese making process, called Geotrichum candidum. G. candidum is a type of mold makes for a cheese that is usually dense with a chalky texture in the middle (the paste) and a sumptuous cream line between the very delicate rind and the paste. These are usually small sized cheese and can even be a one or two bite treasure!
Favorite Flavor Profiles
Bloomy cheeses love a good jam. It can be a sweet or savory jam and can be served next to it on a cheese plate, smothered over a whole wheel, or poured over the top and then wrapped in puff pastry and baked for a real luxurious experience. Dark berries, stone fruit, and wine jams are special treats.
Brainy cheeses like to hang out with things that are sweet and tart. Now is the time to reach for a sour cherry jam or possibly a marmalade. If you want to tone down the tanginess, reach for a honey (we like Bushwick's Salted Honey or Meyer Lemon Honey).
Both cheeses like to be paired with delicate salty meats like prosciutto or crackers with a little salt.
Keep in mind the intensity of the cheese you've picked and make sure that your pairing doesn't overpower it and you'll be a happy cheese camper.
Favorite Wine Profiles
We suggest keeping things light here with the following types of wine:
- Dry White
- Rich White (little or no oak)
- Light Red
If you've picked a super creamy bloomy or brainy we think something sparkling is great to sort of cleanse your palette with every bite. Bubbles aren't just for special occasions, it pairs well with so many cheeses. Reach for a Prosecco or a Cava (bubbly from Spain). If you've picked something with goat's milk, definitely reach for a Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is so friendly with the tanginess of goat's milk you'd think they purposely made for each other.
How to Shop for bloomy&brainy Cheese
Always plan on more of this cheese than you think you need. People flock to this cheese category like, well, cheese on a cracker. If you're in a self service store, pick up small format wheels and gently test the give of the wheel. If the wheel is a little springy without much give, it's still young. If you want something super creamy, set that wheel down and keep looking for something a little softer to the touch. If you pick one up and the rind around the edges seems hard, give it a hard pass, that is past it's prime (still safe to eat) and you have better options.
If you can shop with the help of a monger, let them know what you like in a cheese, firm, runnier, tangier or more earthy and they can likely let you taste a couple options and can help you find the perfect cheese for you!
On a Cheese Plate
If you're buying a big wedge of bloomy cheese, you can just place it as is on the cheese plate. If you have a small format that isn't runny you can either cut it into wedges and lay them out on the plate or just show your cheese-eating guests how to "cut the cheese" (pun intended) by cutting the wheel in half, then cut one quarter, and then cut one small slice out of that quarter.
This type of cheese can definitely be the hero of a plate making it unnecessary to add any other cheeses. You'll want to include a cheese knife or a spreader depending on your presentation and the ripeness of your cheese.
Don't forget crackers or slices of a crusty baguette!
You can also brûlée these cheeses as long as they aren't too creamy. For a more firm cheese that doesn't "melt" when you slice it, you can cut slices and place on a fire proof surface (try aluminum foil on a baking sheet), sprinkle with regular sugar and then melt the sugar with a brûlée torch (usually $10-$15 at a cooking store). If the cheese is a little creamier but is a small sized wheel, cut off the top of the wheel with a serrated knife and dispose of it and then sprinkle the top of the cheese with sugar and melt with the brûlée torch.
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.