To Rind or not to Rind?

The most common question I get asked when working with cheese is “can you eat the rind?” 

The simple answer is…. if your teeth can get through the rind and it tastes nice, eat it! 90% or more of cheese rinds are perfectly edible, and on some cheeses the rind is the best part!

However, there are a few different types of rind and there are some basic rules we can follow. First of all, in most cases, the rind is simply the skin of the cheese, it is a concentration of the interior paste and is therefore generally harder and drier and has a concentrated flavour. Sometimes that flavour is pleasant, sometimes it is actually tastier than the paste but sometimes it can be a little challenging.

Under the rind the paste is usually slightly harder, dryer and stronger flavoured than the very interior paste of the cheese. My favourite way of serving is to slice the cheese thinly to include the internal paste, the under rind and a small piece of the outer rind. Eat them all together and you will enjoy every part and flavour of the cheese in one morsel - I call it a Cheese Cocktail!

Let’s go through the different styles and I’ll give my personal opinion on how best to enjoy them

Soft or “Bloom rinded” cheeses like Brie, Camembert or "Triple Cream" cheeses. You should always eat the rind which is usually the best part. It is soft and can have a texture like cotton wool and can be slightly chewy – wonderful when the cheese is baked! In the middle of the cheese it is softer and milder getting a little tougher and stronger flavoured on the outside. As the cheese ages the rind will get a bit thicker and stronger flavoured. There are other soft cheeses that don’t actually develop a natural rind such as fresh goats cheese, sometimes with ash or charcoal coating. Definitely eat this! 

And then there are soft “wash rinded” cheeses such as Vacherin Mont d’Or, Epoisse, Petit Langres and Stinking Bishop. Washing a cheese with a salty brine or alcohol creates a reaction with natural bacteria and can make the rind a little sticky, smelly and extremely tasty! On the surface of the top and bottom of these cheeses the rind is usually thin but on the very outside of the cheese the rind can become hard and crunchy and more intense in flavour. Here the smell and taste is more challenging.

Other soft-ish cheeses are Blues wrapped in foil such as Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Yorkshire Blue. The cheese is wrapped in foil before a natural rind has had chance to develop so can be eaten. Although as the cheese ages a little, the flavour will become stronger towards the edges. 

Naturally rinded Blues such as Blue Stilton, often referred to as “The King of Cheeses” develop a dry slightly tough and bitter rind. There are some people who like this, others who don’t as it can be too bitter (but see below, cooking with rinds).  Again, if in doubt, taste it!

Waxed rinds such as Gouda style are of course inedible (although they won’t make you ill, they certainly don’t taste nice). But peel off that thin outer rind and the firmer, drier natural rind below is perfectly edible. Other waxed cheeses can include mini waxed Cheddar styles, these are "block" cheeses which have been milled to crumbs then pressed back into small cheese shapes with a thick wax layer coating. Again, the wax should be discarded, but on these there is no natural rind underneath.

Herb, spice and fruit rinded cheeses are not so common but are generally safe to eat although they can be a little tough and bitter. Again, taste them first before discarding.

Smoked cheese rinds are perfectly edible, but of course the smoke laden rind has a much stronger falvour. Be aware though that most so called smoked cheeses (especially from supermarkets) are not actually smoked. They are washed with an artifical smoke flavour brine. And yes, there is a massive difference in flavour, always read the label or ask the cheesemonger first.

Hard cheeses. Starting with British, traditional raw milk Cheddars, Red Leicester and Cheshire cheeses are wrapped in cloth which is then smeared with lard (or sometimes butter) to create an air tight seal. This cloth is usually removed by the cheesemonger so you should not have it on your cheese at home. However, there is a natural rind under this cloth and in most cases it is perfectly good to eat, although it can taste a little “farmy”. Other hard cheeses from other countries, such as most Swiss cheese develop very hard rinds which, although safe to eat are usually too hard to get your teeth through. (again, see “cooking with rinds” below). 

Cooking with Rinds.

The Italians know how to do this best. The rinds of Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Granno Padano are too hard to eat but are always kept to flavour soups…. you only need to put the rind in the soup for a few minutes near the end to give a gentle flavour enhancement to your Minestrone soup. The rind can be dried and used a few times. You can also cut the rind into small cubes and cook them longer to eat whole. 

Other hard rinds that you don't find palletable, scrub clean with a brush then finely grate to add to pasta or cheese sauces. If the rind of a blue or washed rind cheese is too strong for you you can also chop finely and add to mince beef to make the ultimate cheese burger!

© Michael William Jones October 2014. Updated January 2024