How to Smoke Cheese at Home
Introduction to Smoking Cheese
Smoked cheese has a wonderful flavour, but most bought from the supermarket has had that taste added chemically. Believe it or not, ‘liquid smoke’ is brushed onto the cheese to give it the great flavour!
Your standard supermarket smoked cheese has never so much as seen a smouldering wood chip in its life. Of course, the upsides to this for mass producers are a uniform taste and ease of application, which both make it cheaper to produce.
For the home cheese maker though, there is one massive upside in the real method: it tastes phenomenal! And there are other benefits to smoking your own cheese:
- You control the strength of the smokiness you give the cheese by monitoring how much you allow it to absorb
- The flavour you give the cheese is completely in your control through the wood and herbs you use for smoking
- It's really good fun (much more so than brushing a brown liquid over your cheese) and is something just a bit different in your art
- The best part is that, just like your homemade cheese, it’s an authentic smokey taste.
In this article, I'm going to look at how simple it is to set up your own cheese smoker to impart the natural, delicate flavour of smoke to your own cheese.
Cheese Smoking Equipment
There are two ways to tackle smoking your own cheese. The first is that you can buy a kit to do it in a more controlled way (see the table below), the second is to set up your own cold smoker using household equipment.
Cold smoking, as the name implies, means smoking the cheese without getting it hot... mixing heat with cheese is a requirement for cheese on toast, but you'll find it a bit disastrous for smoking!
To achieve cold smoking at home, you'll need:
- Wood chips to create smoke, more on these later
- A wok/barbecue with a lid to hold the smouldering chips and create a thick, flavoursome fog!
- A wood chip burner to set wood chips smouldering
- A smaller pan/bowl/pie tin that fits inside the wok over the wood chips but leaves room for the smoke to flow around it.
- A rack that lets smoke through from the smouldering chips but will support your cheese
Cheese Smoking Equipment to Buy
Perfect for the beginner. This smoking set comes supplied with enough dust (think ground wood chips) for 50 hours of smoking fun - beech, oak, maple and cherry. It is used inside your bbq or other smoke container (check dimensions) and makes smoking incredibly simple and safe. It also comes with a free book on getting the most out of smoking food.
If you decide to take smoking of cheese (or any other food stuff, for that matter) really seriously, then this smoke oven will take it to the next level for you. It comes complete with over a dozen accessories, including thermometer, hooks and fish baskets. It also has a viewing panel to see how well your smoking is progressing - the only question is: where will you put it?
This is a variety pack of top-up smoke dust for use in the beginner's cold smoker on the left (or equivalent product). The set contains: alder, apple, beech, cherry, hickory, maple, oak and whisky oak. You can reasonably expect to achieve 16 smokings from this pack.
What to Smoke Cheese With
Traditionally cheese is smoked with hardwood chips and there is a huge range available, either loose or made for specific smokers.
Thinking a bit wider, wood is not the only source of smoke for flavouring cheese. In the brilliant Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin (buy a copy), there is a recipe for tea-smoked Gruyére.
The recipe calls for the smoking agent to be a mixture of brown sugar, white rice, oolong tea leaves and star anise pods showing that experimentation and our imaginations are the only limit on the smoked tastes that we can try and impart to our cheese.
How to Smoke your Cheese
Now that you have everything needed to smoke your cheese, it’s time to actually get on and do it!
Firstly, make sure that your cheese is ready to be smoked. It needs to be air dried in the fridge overnight and then brought up to room temperature before smoking it.
Your cheese also needs to be given a fighting chance of having the smoke impregnate all the way through, so cutting it into blocks an inch wide will have better results that dropping a whole 1kg truckle of cheese in the smoker.
Line your wok with foil, making sure to overlap the foil around the lip. In the base, put the recommended amount of smoking chips, plus any other flavourings. Directly on top of the chips, rest your tray of ice cold water.
Place the rack for your cheese above the water and, finally, your cheese on the rack.
With the cheese in place, you can now apply heat to your smoke source, following the instructions supplied with your chips. This piece of kit is ideal for the job and, if I'm honest, great fun to use as well!
Once you have smoke being generated, put the lid on the wok (or cover the bbq, etc) to make sure the cheese is enclosed in a dense fog of fragrant smoke.
Leave for between one and two hours before removing the cheese from the smoking chamber. If your taste requires it, and you're looking for a darker finish, then up to five hours will do no harm to the cheese - provided that you keep an eye on the temperature. If you let it get above 70degrees, you risk starting to melt!
However long you leave the cheese in the smoker, it will have warmed up, so let it cool back to room temperature and dry it off again before wrapping or vacuum packing. If the cheese is still quite moist, it can be returned to the fridge or cheese cave to dry for a further night before packing.
Time helps bring out the flavour of smoking. So, once packed, try and resist the temptation to eat the cheese less than a week after smoking, as this will give time for the taste to impregnate the whole cheese, and the more time you give it, the mellower the taste becomes.
If you want more detail about smoking cheese, take a look at these articles:
- Read more on general smoking equipment in this great article.
- This article on the smoking meat website has good Q&A around cheese smoking
- On the Cheese Forum, this thread goes into some detail about cold smoking
- My Recommended BOOKS ON SMOKING CHEESE (and other foods)
One of my favourite books of all time! There is nothing in this book about smoking cheese particularly, but it has a few wonderful pages on how to smoke for preserving and flavour.
My cheese making bible! If you buy no other book on making cheese, then make sure this is the one you get. There are a few pages on smoking in here, including the team smoking recipe referenced above.
I haven't read this book, but it is smoking-specific and has only four- and five-star reviews on Amazon at the time of writing. So, if your interest is piqued, or you've already had a play with smoking and want to take it further, then this looks like a great buy.