We often get questions from customers about when it is appropriate to eat the rind of cheese. Many people are wary of biting into an extremely unpleasant rind, and we are frequently asked if there is some kind of rule to follow about edible/inedible rinds. Many times the rind of a cheese can take a cheese from good to great, while other times the rind can be a naturally produced impediment blocking you from the tasty paste within. So naturally people would love a simple guideline that told them when to chow down on a rind and when to avoid it like the plague.
Unfortunately there is no simple answer for this question. Much depends on the type of cheese, the production method and the age of the particular cheese in question. Some cheeses are wrapped in wax (such as Gouda) or cloth (such as traditional English Cheddar), and it’s safe to say you do not want to eat those. These rinds certainly won’t kill you, but it is likely they will make your cheese eating experience quite unpleasant. (To that customer I helped on my first week as a cheesemonger- I am sorry I told you that the rind of the Roaring 40’s was “totally edible”. It is in fact made of wax, which I’m sure you learned very quickly. I was new and had much to learn. Forgive me!)
Other than these types of man-made coverings, the rinds of cheeses are a natural result of the aging process. Some rinds, like on delicate Brillat-Savarin or buttery Moses Sleeper, are often enjoyed by cheese-eaters. These bloomy rinds add a hint of mushrooms and a textural layer that some find appealing.
More aged cheeses will often have thicker, more “robust” rinds. Alpine style cheeses, Pecorinos, and aged goat milk cheeses can have rinds of many different colors, textures and thicknesses. Sometimes these rinds are mild and pleasant and elevate the quality of the cheese even farther. Other times the rinds will be bitter or gritty, completely overshadowing the pleasing flavors of the interior of the cheese.
Unfortunately there is no way to know for sure how a rind will be until you taste it. The rind of the most delicate soft-ripened cheese may be bitter and soapy, while the rind of an aged, rustic cheese will be mild and delectable. The best advice we can offer you here is to be bold and give the rind a chance! Start off with a small taste, you may find that you love the rind after all. As with every other part of the tasting process, the preference for rind or no rind is completely personal. Some people prefer to go rindless even on a mild triple-creme while others love the challenge of a tough, mite-ridden rind (true story- a customer once told Amelia she loves to chew on the rind of the mite-ridden Mimolette). So be bold, cheese lovers, and dare to taste the rind. You never know what you will love!