Recipe: Rhubarb marmalade (for your spring cheese plate)

Photo Credit: Grow It Can It Cook It

For many cheesemakers, the arrival of spring means the return of fresh cheeses like chevre, ricotta and surface-ripened styles. Even if they’ve been making cheese throughout the winter (due to a staggered breeding schedule, which is what Haystack Mountain relies on for its milk sourcing), kidding, calving and lambing season peaks this time of year and with that comes a surplus of milk.

Our cheesemaker Jackie Chang, is busier than ever, starting new batches of washed rind cheeses (which sold out over the winter). What we’re really psyched about now, however, is using our chevre and bloomy-rind cheeses such as Cashmere and Snowdrop in simple dishes that sing of spring.

One of my favorite ingredients is rhubarb. It grows abundantly in the wild in Colorado, and has greener stalks than cultivated varieties, which makes the latter more popular for use in desserts. A relative of buckwheat and sorrel, rhubarb is best-known as a pie ingredient paired with strawberries, but its appeal extends far beyond pastry (note that it should always be cooked; the leaves contain toxic amounts of oxalic acid, although the stalks only have trace amounts).

Haystack Mountain Cashmere

I love rhubarb prepared as a savory or sweet quick-marmalade, which makes for a beautiful- and unusual- condiment for pairing with fresh or bloomy-rind cheeses or a topping chevre or ricotta cheesecake or ice cream. You can also poach the stalks until tender in a simple syrup and use them in a salad paired with aforementioned cheeses (alternatively, try them with a mild, creamy blue) and toasted hazelnuts.

 

Photo credit: The Pioneer Woman

Recipe: Rhubarb Marmalade

Serves 4

¾ cup water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated, peeled ginger

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out

1 pound rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

Pinch of kosher salt

>In a saucepan, combine with water, sugar, ginger, allspice, and vanilla bean and seeds.  Add rhubarb; bring to a boil.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is jam-like, about 20 minutes.  Season to taste with a pinch of salt, discard vanilla bean.

Rhubarb & Chevre Parfait makes an elegant brunch dish. Photo credit: What’s for lunch, honey?

Everything you always wanted to know about rinds *but were afraid to ask

Photo credit: Becks & Posh

Dear Haystack,

I’m confused about cheese rinds. Are they safe to eat? Is it rude to leave them on my plate?

Sincerely,

Rattled by Rinds

 

Dear Rattled,

You’re not alone: This is the question most frequently asked of cheese professionals. The short answer is, unless a cheese is waxed or bandaged, the rind is safe to eat and it’s a matter of personal preference.

It helps to understand what the rind is and what purpose it serves. Think of the rind as the skin of the cheese. Its function is to keep the surface of the cheese from being exposed to air, which also serves to protect the interior, or paste. Rind formation happens organically as part of the aging process (this is why fresh cheeses, like our chevre, don’t have rinds- they’re not aged), but the much of the art of cheesemaking lies in controlling the rind development and aging process with the right combination of bacteria (molds, yeasts, etc.), temperature and humidity.

If the rind cracks, unwanted microorganisms can enter the cheese, causing off flavors or spoilage. The style or type of rind on a cheese can reflect the climate, region or simply the cheesemaker’s personal preference. It also contributes to a cheese’s final taste and texture, to varying degrees.

Note that the cheese industry doesn’t have regulatory terms when it comes to classifying styles of cheese or rinds, so depending upon who you talk to or what you read, terminology may vary. Some cheeses also fit into more than one category (say, a washed rind that also has a mold like Geotrichum added to it, like the French cheese Langres). Read on for a crash course on rinds, so you can hold court at your next cocktail party.

Haystack Peak

Soft-ripened

Also known as surface-ripened or bloomy-rind cheeses, these are ripened from the outside surface inward, because of the molds used in their production- primarily Penicillum candidum or Geotrichum candidum. These molds what give these cheeses their distinctive white to pale-yellow, beige, or grayish rinds, which may be velvety, chalky, or wrinkly (this last is a characteristic of Geotrichum) in texture, and earthy, mushroomy or floral in flavor. The most well-known soft-ripened cheeses are Brie and Camembert; our Haystack Peak and Snowdrop are soft-ripened.

Fourme d’ambert, a blue cheese that also has a natural rind. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Natural

Exposure to air- and the ambient microorganisms that exist in a given environment- are what contributes to the formation of these cheeses; they don’t have additional bacteria or mold added to the milk or curd. Sometimes, natural rind cheeses are rubbed with fat, like olive oil or lard, or bound with cloth (see final entry, below) to prevent cracking. Our Queso de Mano is a natural rind cheese.

Good Thunder, is washed with beer. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Washed

These are your “stinky” cheeses. Their rinds- which may be orange, pinkish, yellow, or reddish- are the result of a bacteria called Brevibacterium linens. B. linens can be naturally occurring, but it’s usually added to the brine or other liquid (beer, wine, spirits, et al.) used to “wash” the cheese as it ages. Washed rinds usually smell stronger than they taste, and they’re particularly compatible with beer (just sayin’). Fun fact: B. linens is the same bacteria that flourishes on human feet, which is why some washed rind cheeses smell like…you get the picture.

The most famous washed rind cheeses include Epoisses, Livarot and Pont l’Eveque. Our Red Cloud and Funkmeister are washed with brine, and A Cheese Named Sue is washed with Oskar Blues G’Knight Imperial Red IPA.

A bandaged Cheddar. Photo credit: Cheese Notes

Bandaged/Clothbound, waxed, or coated

Bandaging, waxing or coating cheese (with olive oil or other fats, or spices) prevents cracking and inhibits the growth of unwanted microorganisms; the addition of spices and other ground aromatics also enhance the flavor of cheese. Waxed cheeses like our Vaquero Jack or Buttercup– are encased in a food-grade coating that should be removed for consumption (most bandaged cheeses have their wrappings removed before purchase).

One final tip: When confronted with a cheese plate at a party or dinner, resist the impulse to excavate the paste from the rind (the result is not pretty). If you’d prefer not to eat the rind, simply discard it on your plate.

No rind left behind. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma