It's easy, delicious and makes life really good and flavorful!
Just about everyone I know loves cheese-- piled high on a sandwich; melted to a creamy fondue; string cheese for the kids; Gouda/brie smeared on a cracker; aged Parmesan grated on a crispy pizza; a drippy/crispy fried mass on sourdough bread, or just a big hunk from the refrigerator.
As good as cheeses are out of the package, you can take “cheapy” cheese and add a true “gourmet touch” to virtually any type or brand by smoking them in your Little/Big Chief Smoker (www.smokehouseproducts.com ) or by using the Smoke Chief for cold-smoking!
Here’s a prime example. With very little work or effort, you can take an inexpensive store bought generic cheeseball ($5) and turn it into a smoked, golden brown connoisseur snack that will virtually guarantee no leftovers when presented to family and friends! In writing this article, I purchased an imported smoked French Cheddar cheeseball from a high-class Cheese Delicatessen for $23.50, along with a $5 non-descript semi-soft cheddar ball rolled in nuts from the local supermarket.
After smoking the inexpensive cheeseball in the Little Chief Smoker with the Smokehouse Apple-flavor wood chips for about 90 minutes, we did a blind taste-test to measure the results. Five taste-testers were unanimous in the results; the “home-smoked” ball was more flavorful, fresher tasting, not bitter and smooth.
In total, we smoked 11 different types of cheeses (numerous varieties), all inexpensive grocery store/non-gourmet brands with the same results! As you might imagine, I have created a “monster group” of smoked cheesehead fans that now want to use the Little Chief Smoker or the Smoke Chief Cold Smoke Generator to make and share pounds of smoked cheeses with their family and friends.
To make the experience even better, we decided to pair the cheeses with some of everyone’s favorite wines, thanks to the help and guidance of our local wine expert and sommelier, Dani Leach from the Gunnison Liquors, “The House of Good Spirits,” ( www.gunnisonliquor.com).
“Wines don’t have to be expensive to pair up nicely with cheese,” says Dani Leach, Gunnison Liquors. “With smoked cheeses you are changing the dynamics of the cheese and are going to be surprised at how many cheese types will match up with reds, whites, dry/sweet and even champagnes or sparkling wines.”
When it comes to smoking cheeses, there are few important factors to keep in mind. Soft cheeses (cream cheese, goat, etc) are going to require more attention while smoking. For cold-smoking with the Smoke Chief (0 degrees F. of heat), we had little concerns. When using the electric Little Chief Smoker, where the unit heats to 165 degrees F., we needed to prop open the loading door about 1 ½ inches to circulate the smoke, and minimize the heat.
Smoke to cheese is good, heat is not! Our guidelines include the favorite wood flavors for smoking, and suggested smoking times. Feel free to experiment with smoking times as some people like more, and other prefer less.
Another self-taught trick is to take all your cheeses and put them into your freezer for an hour or two, before you start the smoking process. Remember that unlike meats, fish or fowl, you simply want to smoke the outside layer of the cheeses and are not concerned about cooking them or trying for deep penetration.
After trying a host of cheese types, wood flavors (chips for the Smoker and pellets for the Smoke Chief), we’ve assembled and amassed the results of our experiences, favorite wood flavors and wines to compliment everything from your next camping/outdoor adventure, backyard barbeque or gourmet wine and cheese tasting party!
Baby Bel Cheese Rounds—Champagne, Asti Spumante, Pinot Grigio
The original Babybel cheese in the red wrapper with red wax is a French version of Dutch Edam cheese made from cow's milk. Today, there are eight other varieties distinguished by the color of the wrapper and wax.
Simply unwrap the paper and wax and place on smoker rack with either Apple or Cherry wood. Our best results were after smoking from 45-60 minutes.
Brie—Champagne, Asti Spumante, Gewürztraminer
Brie is a versatile soft cow’s milk cheese with a delicious creamy taste. Originally from France, it now is available from California, Wisconsin and other states. You do not have to scrape off the cheese’s skin, but freeze it up for an hour or two before smoking. Cold-smoke with no heat, or make sure to keep the heat in your smoker as low as possible. Our best results were with Apple and Alder for about 45-60 minutes.
Cheddar Cheese/Cheeseballs—Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Champagne, Asti Spumante.
Probably the most versatile and popular of all the cheeses, Cheddar actually describes a family of cheeses. Flavors range from mild to very sharp. Excellent when sliced or chunked and then smoked with any of your favorite wood flavors after about 1 ½ to 2 hours. No prep needed with the cheese balls, but pre-freezing them before smoking helps to keep from melting.
Cream Cheese—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
A favorite on everything from toast and bagels, cream cheese is a favorite for also making a host of cake frostings. It is made from cow’s milk with a high cream content; hence it’s very soft texture and creamy flavor. Make sure that you freeze up your cream cheese before smoking, even if cold-smoking or you are going to end up with a great big, gooey mess! Our best results came with Apple and Cherry wood flavor for 45-60 minutes. All the other wood flavors were too strong in flavor.
Goat Cheese—Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Goat cheese comes in a variety of cheese types and flavors (hard, semi and soft). Ours was a soft creamy roll with a real “tangy” bite to it. It worked best by being pre-frozen for 2 hours before smoking. Apple wood gave the cheese a sweet flavor, and Hickory was bold with a “bite!” Smoking time was around 1 hour.
Gouda—Malbec, Riesling, Merlot
Originally from Holland, Gouda has a distinctive buttery flavor with a slight sweetness. Apple and Alder woods gave the cheese a mild smoke flavor after 1 hour, while Cherry and Hickory wood smoke were bold after about 45 minutes.
Monterey Jack—Merlot, Riesling, Zinfandel
This is usually a white, semi-firm cheese that is popular on sandwiches, salads, cooked foods and as a snack. Variations in flavors include: Caraway, Garlic, Garlic & Chive, Green Chili, Habanero, Hot Pepper, Jalapeño, Mediterranean, Mediterranean Olive, Onion, Pesto, Rosemary, Salsa, Smoked, Smoked Salmon, Sun-Dried Tomato, etc. Chunked or sliced, the cheese came out best after 1 ½-2 hours or more of smoke time. All wood flavors worked well with this cheese and several of the different flavors.
Mozzarella cheese is semi-soft and originally from southern Italy where it was made with Italian buffalo milk. Today it is popular as large cheeseballs, sliced and as the ever popular string cheese snacks. Because this cheese is semi-soft with low-moisture, smoke penetrates more slowly. Our best results were with smoking for several hours. All wood flavors--- Apple, Alder, Cherry, Hickory and Mesquite worked well, and each imparted rich flavors.
Parmesan—Chianti, Pinot Noir, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Riesling
Parmesan is a true “hard cheese” made from raw partially skimmed cow's milk. It is most often used as a shaved/grated topping for pizza, salads, sandwiches and in cooking. It also makes a great Parmesan cheese crisp when fried. Because the cheese is hard, expect that it will take 2+ hours to load it up with a good smoky flavor. Wonderful flavor with fruit woods—Apple and Cherry. Cheese was harsh and bitter with Mesquite or Hickory.
Provolone—Chianti, Pinot Noir, Un-Oaked Chardonnay, Riesling
This is an Italian-style semi-firm to firm cheese that can be found from mild to sharp flavors. It is delicious when eaten plain or used on sandwiches or in cooking. Sliced Provolone picked up good flavor from Apple wood after 30-45 minutes. Cherry and Alder flavored the cheese after about 1 hour. Mesquite flavor came out bitter and harsh, and should be avoided.
Swiss—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
Swiss cheese is also actually a family of semi-firm to firm cheeses that have a mild, sweet and nut-like flavor. The bacterium Propionibacterium freudenreichii is used to ferment the milk, and that is what causes the bubbles of carbon dioxide that form inside the cheese as it hardens. Those bubbles then become holes when the cheese is sliced. Slices or chunks take smoke well after about an hour with Apple, Cherry or even Hickory wood flavor.
Article by Andy Lightbody. Photos by Kathy Mattoon.
Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon are co-authors of ALL THINGS JERKY, The Definitive Guide To Making Delicious and Dried Snack Offerings (Skyhorse Publishing). Copies are available at www.amazon.com