We get this question a lot. And that only makes sense. Some of those rinds look and smell pretty inedible.
Fortunately, there are actually a few really simple guidelines to help you decide whether you should the rind.
What are Cheese Rinds?
The outside of a cheese wheel—sometimes fluffy, sticky, or crusty—is called the rind. Most cheeses have some type of rind, but not all.
The rind of a cheese develops as it ages. It’s an important factor determining how a cheese “ripens” or develops flavour and texture over time.
This wheel of Piave has a rock-hard natural rind from long aging.
Sometimes, a rind is just hard, dehydrated cheese—the result of the cheese on the surface of the wheel drying out as it ages. These are called natural rinds and you’ll find them on longer-aged cheeses. They are simply too hard to eat.
Pro tip: Save Parmigiano Reggiano rinds and add them to homemade soup. They still won't be edible but they'll add delicious flavour to the soup.
A wheel of Homboldt Fog with its edible fluffy white bloomy rind.
If you’re a fan of Brie or Camembert, you’re familiar with their fluffy white rinds. These are called bloomy rinds and are the result of moulds being applied to the surface of the cheese and allowing them to develop in a high-humidity environment. Bloomy rinds can be eaten and often lend a mushroomy flavour.
Examples to try: Riopelle, Brie de Meaux, Chateau de Bourgogne
A bright orange washed-rind wheel of Pied de Vent. You may notice some some grittiness from mineral crystals in this edible rind.
Washed-rind cheeses are brushed with alcohol or salt water as they age. This creates an ideal environment for certain bacteria which help the wheel ripen in weird and wonderful ways. You’ll recognize these rinds by their strong smell, sticky texture, and orangey-red hues.
While this sounds unappetizing to some, washed rinds are generally edible unless specifically noted otherwise. Despite the odour, they can add delicious flavours. You may notice a slight grittiness in washed rinds that comes from mineral crystals.
This wheel of Pecorino Foglie Di Noce has developed an inedible natural rind and been coated with olive oil and walnut leaves.
You’ll also see a lot of cheeses that have substances applied to the outside of the wheel to act as a kind of artificial rind. It can be anything from such as a plasticized paint, wax, cotton cloth, foil, oil, plant leaves, or even animal fat. Goudas, clothbound cheddars, and some blue cheeses are all examples. Most of these “rinds” are avoided for fairly obvious reasons of indigestibility.
You Do You
We totally encourage you to push yourself a little bit. If the rind is edible, try a little bit with your next the cheese. That rind should add an interesting new flavour dimension to your experience. On the other hand, you may hate it. If that’s the case, just leave it.
In the end, enjoy your cheese on your own terms. There are no cheese police.