You can use your smoker or charcoal grill to smoke more than just meats. Along with beef, pork, chicken, fish and other meats, you can also smoke cheese. Assuming you use a flavorful variety of smoking chunks, it will produce a rich smokey flavor that complements the natural flavor of cheese. When smoking cheese, however, you'll need to use caution to ensure that you don't burn or melt it.
The Benefits of Smoked Cheese
Smoked cheese offers a delicious flavor that's not found in traditional, non-smoked cheese. Once inside your smoker or charcoal grill, the cheese will absorb flavorful smoke from your smoking chunks. If you use white oak smoking chunks, the cheese will absorb some of the oak's mild but delicious flavor. If you use hickory smoking chunks, it will absorb some of the hickory's sweet flavor. You can use multiple varieties of smoking chunks to achieve a combination of flavors.
It's also relatively easy to smoke cheese. In fact, most pitmasters will agree that smoking cheese is easier than smoking meats, partly because you don't have to worry about the internal temperature reaching a safe point to protect against foodborne illness. You just have to create enough smoke so that it injects your cheese with flavorful new compounds.
As with other smoked foods, smoked cheese has a longer shelf life than non-smoked cheese. Smoking is essentially a curing process that inhibits the growth of bacteria and viruses. Smoked cheese will still go bad, but it takes longer for smoked cheese to spoil than it does for non-smoked cheese. This is actually one of the reasons why smoked cheese was originally invented.
Common Types of Smoked Cheese
Regardless of which type of cheese you prefer, you can probably smoke it. Most varieties of cheese can be easily smoked using a smoker or charcoal grill. With that said, some of the popular types of smoked cheese include the following:
Prepare Your Cheese
After choosing a type of cheese to smoke, you should cut into small square- or rectangular-shaped blocks. Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't smoke large blocks of cheese. If you simply remove a large block of cheese from the wrapper and toss it in your smoker or charcoal grill, it won't produce the same rich flavor as it would if you were to use smaller blocks of cheese. By cutting your cheese into small blocks, a greater amount of surface area will be exposed to the smoke. As a result, small blocks of cheese will absorb more smoke than large blocks.
Of course, you shouldn't make your cheese too small. If it's too small, or thin in particular, it may fall through the grate. Therefore, you should cut your cheese into blocks that are large enough to cover at least two individual bars on the cooking grate.
Start Your Smoker or Grill
Now it's time to start up your smoker or charcoal grill. Keep in mind that smoking cheese requires lower temperatures than smoking meats or other foods. If your smoker or charcoal grill is too hot, the cheese will melt or even burn.
To maintain a low temperature that doesn't melt or burn your cheese, add a very small amount of charcoal -- preferably briquette charcoal rather than lump charcoal -- to your smoker's or grill's fuel compartment. Either next to the charcoal or in a separate offset firebox, add your desired smoking chunks. You can then light your charcoal, allowing your smoker or grill to heat up, albeit at a low temperature. Just keep an eye on the temperature while aiming for about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add Your Cheese
Once your smoker or charcoal grill has reached about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you can add your cheese to the grate. Carefully place each block of cheese across the grate. Next, adjust the dampers on your smoker or charcoal grill so that they are about three-quarters of the way of closed. By keeping the dampers mostly closed, only a small amount of air will flow into and through your smoker or charcoal grill. This is important because it helps to control the temperature, preventing your cheese from melting or burning.
Depending on the size of your cheese blocks, as well as the temperature of your smoker or charcoal grill, the cheese should take about one or two hours to smoke. Generally speaking, though, the longer you allow cheese to smoke, the more flavorful it will be. When finished, you can either consume the smoked cheese immediately or store it in the refrigerator.
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