Who has not had the typical discussion about whether cheese crust can be eaten or not? The passionate confessors of the cheese enjoy each bite without shame of a good copy of true quality, and it is inevitable to feel some regret when having to leave the crust on the plate. There is a belief that it is not edible, and yet, we are wasting a tasty part of these dairy products.
There are thousands of different cheeses throughout the world, with very different elaborations and processes. So, not all crusts are equal nor do they present the same gastronomic possibilities, and some varieties are true that they are not edible. But a large majority of barks can be eaten, with precautions, and also used in the kitchen.Live to the PalateHow to make the perfect cheese board
The different types of cheese crusts
Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit a cheese factory or large-scale production plant will have learned that the cheese crust is formed as part of the natural process. That is, it is part of the cheese itself, which as it ages acquires different characteristics, becoming harder. But not all barks are natural.
As stated in the Cheese Quality Standard, they distinguish between natural bark and artificial bark, of which there are also several differentiated types. I anticipate that none is toxic, although not all are edible.
Natural Cheese Crust
Is that which appears spontaneously during maturation and cheese aging. When more mature, harder, dry and visible. Fresher cheeses such as burgos or mozzarella have no crust as such because it does not have time to form. It can be washed, pressed, moldy, with herbs, etc.
- Natural fresh with molds. The type of crust so recognizable in Brie, Camembert, Vaquerin-style soft cheeses or a goat's curl cheese. They are tender and soft, whitish or pale surface due to the presence of molds that appear naturally or are added in the process. This bark is washed to brush much of these molds.
- Natural dried with molds. In the toughest, less humid, aged cheeses that can last for many months, molds can also appear spontaneously contributing to the formation of cheese flavors and aromas. A typical example is the Idiazabal manchego.
- Natural dry without mold. It is a crust in appearance very similar to the previous one, but with other organoleptic characteristics since molds are not involved in the cheese process. It is very hard and dry, sometimes it is coated with oil.
- Natural bathed. They are cheeses subjected to a bath of different preparations that give flavor, aroma and color. It can be wine, a brine, a spice bath, beer, etc.
Artificial Cheese Crust
Cheeses that have an artificial crust have been subjected to a wax coating bath, paraffin or a specific paint to protect it. As Gemma del Caño explains, that painting is applied not only to seal and protect the cheese itself, but also to improve its visual appearance and to facilitate identification. It does not harm the quality of cheese and can help control ripening.
These crusts are not intended to be ingested and therefore they appear well labeled as "inedible bark". But in the case of eating it by mistake, it is not toxic to humans - something logical, no manufacturer would want to poison their consumers. The red paraffin that covers Edam cheese is a well-known example.Live to the Palate How is a Cabrales cheese made? Myths and truths about the most famous Asturian cheese
So what crusts can we eat?
Starting from the basis that no cheese is going to poison us, all natural barks are edible. However, some are more interesting than others when it comes to tasting cheese.
Fresh molds with mold soft cheeses like Brie They are part of its essence and it seems like a crime not to eat it, if the product is of quality. You could be indigestible when eating it in large quantities, and in any case you should choose well-packed cheeses, which have not been exposed to air or external contacts.
In the case of the toughest natural crusts, the problem is precisely in its hardness. With very mature specimens the bark can become difficult to chew and acquire a taste too strong, so it is more advisable to try small portions. For example, the crust of Parmigiano Reggiano is so hard that we could damage our teeth by trying to bite it.Live to the Palate 11 cheeses suitable for lactose intolerant very cheese makers
It is worth trying the cheese crusts that have received a special natural bath or coating, such as washed with wine or those with rosemary, paprika or other spices, since they add much of their olfactory and gustatory characteristics. Cheeses dipped in olive oil are also exquisite with their crust.
Do not forget that many cheeses are stored and displayed in stores directly exposed without greater protection than that of its own bark. In this case, as Miguel A. Lurueña recalls, its consumption should be avoided or precautions should be taken, as the barks are exposed to all types of contaminating elements. Think of the fruit we buy in bulk, for example.
Tips to take advantage of the toughest crusts in the kitchen
I have already commented that the crust of the good Parmigiano is so hard that there comes a time when we can no longer grate it. But it would be a shame to throw it away to the trash We must take advantage of everything possible in the kitchen, and more when it comes to top quality products.
The toughest natural barks can be frozen. You just have to wrap the portions individually and store them in freezer bags, and so we can use them whenever we need, without having to defrost them beforehand.
The easiest and most delicious way to take advantage of it is by adding it to casseroles, stews, stews, soups or sauces. During cooking it softens and releases a deep flavor, almost a dairy umami that will completely transform a minestrone or a risotto. It also enriches the roasts of meats or vegetables simply by adding the crust directly to the source.Live on the Palate Creamy bean soup with vegetables and parmesan: Italian spoon recipe
Another option is to prepare directly a pot of cheese crust stock, especially if we have accumulated several pieces in the freezer. To do this, we can cook about 250 g of crust in about 3-4 liters of water, adding a few fresh herbs and some grains of black pepper. After simmer for 60-90 minutes, stirring from time to time, we will have a golden broth with an intense aroma.
After straining it we can use it to prepare pasta sauces, soups, stews, chicken dishes, vegetables, a risotto or whatever we can think of. If it has a very intense flavor you just have to divide it into portions and combine it with water or broth of vegetables or chicken, according to the recipe. Of course, it can be frozen once it has cooled.
And you, are you one of those who always eat the crust or until now you left it on the plate? In the end, the important thing is dare to try and be guided by personal taste, always based on food safety and hygiene, of course.Live to the Palate How are the cheeses that have conquered the world's greatest cheese experts and how to buy them
Photos | iStock - Unsplash - Erin Pawlicki