You want me to eat mold? Is that safe or even legal? It is common to get this reaction from the timid cheese eater. The rind on Camembert and Brie is safe to eat and adds to the overall enjoyment of the cheese.
It is not compulsory and some people need to work their way up to it. But to know it is to love it, so here are the basics. Several members of the white mold family producethe white rind or bloom. Penicillium candidum, Penicillium camemberti and Geotrichum candidum all produce the white surface bloom and perform three key roles for the cheese.
The first is ripening. The molds feed on the cheese, just like a mushroom would feed on the forest fl oor, sending out a web of roots. The molds convert the lactate in the cheese, changing the texture and pH of the cheese as they go. These chemical changes in the cheese help create the lovely unctuous glossy ooze that a perfectly ripe Camembert has.
The second is flavor. Foodies describe a ripe white mold cheese as having a mushroom flavor and for good reason. The molds impart fungal, earthy flavors and aromas as they ripen the cheeses.
The third is protection. These molds are vigorous in defense of their real estate. They overcome a salted surface to create an enveloping white bloom that keeps other bacteria at bay, while inside the cheese they leave behind enzymes that protect and preserve the cheese. Similar molds are used to preserve traditionally fermented salamis with their white bloomy skins.
Many commercially produced white mold cheeses use only Penicillium candidum. Used together with the traditional Geotrichum candidum, it creates a more complex and traditional cheese. They both produce different characteristics in the finished cheese and balance each other nicely.
Penicillium candidum gives the uniform white rind and buttery flavors, but it can also create bitterness in the cheese. Penicillium geotrichum works to balance out this bitterness. It also creates beautiful wrinkled surface rinds, a more pronounced earthy aroma and richer nuttier flavor. In addition to the white molds that work on the surface, the milk must be fermented by lactic bacterial cultures.
We use the Culture Cupboard® Camembert Starter, which includes both lactic cultures and mold. If you use other brands of culture, choose a mesophilic starter that contains Leuconostoc mesenteroides ssp. cremoris and the following Lactococcus sub-species - lactis, cremoris and lactis biovar. diacetylactis.
We hope this knowledge of the fungi and bacteria at work in your cheese hasn’t put you off making or eating it! Just remember that many of the best foods are living, seething masses of bacteria and, as it happens, so are we.
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Reprinted with permission from How to Make Brie and Camembert by Heather Cole and published by Country Trading Co.