What it is: Anatomy of cheese
Who it’s for: Those who like to know the inside and out, or any cheese lover who wants to better understand their cheese!
The rind of the cheese is just the outside part of the cheese (or, most cheeses—we’ll get to that in a minute), and can be edible or non-edible. An example of a non-edible rind would be wax or cloth, such as in a waxed Asiago or a clothbound cheddar, whereas an edible rind would be naturally occurring or washed (with brine or beer, for example. Rinds are both utilitarian (they protect the cheese so that it can be aged) and magical (they ripen the cheese and flavor the cheese). As mentioned above, not every cheese has a rind, for example block cheddars, rindless blues, and fresh cheeses such as mozzarella and fresh chèvre all don’t have rinds.
The paste is the cheese that falls inside the rind. If you don’t have a rind, then it is the whole enchilada, as it were. Paste can be creamy, chalky, hard, spreadable, supple, crumbly and smooth, it can have eyes or veins, or other inclusions, such as herbs.
You will only find a creamline in bloomy&brainy and creamy&funky cheeses, and you won’t find it in all of them. The creamline is the area right under the rind that is gooier than the rest of the cheese paste. The process of creating a creamline is called proteolysis which occurs when the molds on the rind start breaking down the proteins inside of the cheese. If you get one of these cheeses too early, it may not have developed a creamline, whereas if you get an overly ripe cheese, the creamline may actually have ripened the entire paste (i.e. all the way through), making a fully creamy cheese.
We all can imagine the quintessential “Swiss cheese” with holes in it. These holes are actually called eyes, and they occur when carbon dioxide develops while the cheese is still malleable, so the paste can make room, so to speak, and allow air pockets to form.
You will mostly find veins in blue cheese, but you can also occasionally find them in cheeses that have other flavorings injected into them, such as Moliterno al Tartufo: a sheep's milk cheese with truffle veins (yes, it is delicious!) The veins in blue cheese, which create that unmistakable flavor that blue cheese fans love, are made of mold, but in order to be able to grow, the mold needs to be exposed to air. So, to get air inside the paste, the cheese is poked full of holes, either by a machine fitted with a head covered with pointed protrusions, or by a person with an ice-pick like tool that they poke into the cheese over and over. These holes allow enough air for the flavor-producing mold to take hold.
Knowing what the parts of cheese are will help you know how to pick a cheese in good condition and it will give you some hints to what it will taste like.
Check out your local cheese store or artisan cheese counter at the grocery store and see if you can identify all the parts of cheese. Use your newfound knowledge when chatting up your cheesemonger, especially when looking at rinds. Bonus points if you can find all the types of paste listed above!
Click the icons to download a pdf of this lesson and our two handy guides: How Cheese is Made and Cheese and Pairing Types.