When should you eat it?
The French measure the ripeness of Camembert in quarters, each quarter representing a week. By law, AOC Camembert is not allowed to be sold before the age of 21 days and somewhere between 3 and 4 weeks of age is regarded as the peak of maturity. However you can enjoy your cheese at any stage depending on your tastes. A young, firm cheese of 1-2 weeks old is best for cooking with and for those who prefer a milder flavor. Those who prefer a stronger flavor, thicker rind and runnier interior may prefer to leave the cheeses for 4-5 weeks before eating them. If you are maturing your white mold cheese in a kitchen refrigerator, allow up to 7 weeks for it to ripen.
The photo below shows the progression of the ripening as the molds grow and the pH of the interior changes, altering the texture of the cheese. An unctuous bulging paste with a slight a slight hint of chalkiness at the center is the peak of ripeness. If the paste runs rather than bulges when the cheese is cut then it is past its best.
How do you judge ripeness when you’re selecting an uncut cheese to share with guests? If the surface of the cheese feels like the soft flesh at the base of your palm, then it is good to cut. If the surface is firm with little give in it, then it is still too young. If a cheese smells strongly of ammonia and is very loose around the edges of the skin and very soft to the touch it may be over-ripe.
How should it taste?
A properly ripened cheese should have a fresh earthy smell that uncharitable people compare to wet sports socks. We prefer the aroma of mushrooms and damp hay. It has a clean, subtle flavor some people compare to cauliflower. The flavor is mild and sweet when young, getting stronger with age.
The salt should be there but not dominating. The character of the milk influences the flavor also. Double and triple cream cheeses produce mellow, rich flavors, while skim milk cheeses produce cleaner, austere mineral flavors. You will soon learn when you like to eat your creations!
More from How to Make Brie and Camembert:
Reprinted with permission from How to Make Brie and Camembert by Heather Cole and published by Country Trading Co.