Info on choosing the best, what to avoid, and what that white rind is really all about, after the jump.
The term "bloomy" refers to an edible mold that literally blooms on the rind of certain cheeses. The mold spores are white and fluffy and can grow to pretty accurately resemble a fluffy patch of snow. In fact, affineurs -- people who specialize in the art of aging cheese -- will actually pat down this mold with their fingers as it grows. They do this to establish an even rind development, which in turn helps to promote the proper ripening of the inner paste of the cheese.
The white mold, the most common of which is named penicilium candidum, can grow from the addition of those mold spores to the milk at the beginning of the cheese making process, or it will grow naturally if the cheese ages in a cave where ambient mold spores already grow. Industrially made bloomies will often have their white coating sprayed on, which results in a perfectly even, often thick (and not too tasty) rind.
Bloomies that have more variation on the rind or have a mottled, irregular appearance may be evidence of a cheese that grew its rind naturally, perhaps with the aid of a small addition of mold spores as well. Chances are good that cheeses made in this way will be tastier -- just think of the brie that sat around at your last office party, its insides hollowed out, with only that chewy, rubbery skeleton of a rind left on the plate.
Enough, now, of this talk of mold growth and penicilium (no, not the same thing as penicillin). How do you pick a good bloomy to bring home and what are some of the most formidable examples of this style? Look for a rind that isn't cracked or that doesn't look too dried out. Slimy bloomies are bad, and greenish blue mold is to be avoided also.
Smell the cheese. If it smells ammoniated, don't fear. Ammonia is a natural by-product of cheese aging. If when you taste the cheese it tastes of ammonia, that probably means that it's gone bad.
Bloomies shouldn't be wrapped too tightly in plastic wrap at your retailer -- in fact, no cheese should be. The rinds on bloomies need to breathe, and so they're best left either unwrapped in the case or as part of the larger wheel, not precut, unless it looks like it's a freshly cut slice. You can usually tell if it is because the paste of the cheese isn't melding into the plastic wrap and the slice itself holds it shape properly. The rind shouldn't be peeling away from the paste, and there should be minimal oozing from the creamline, which is the area directly beneath the rind.
Some ultimate favorite bloomy rinded cheeses include:
- Cowgirl Creamery Pierce Point and Mt. Tam: Pasteurized Cow, Point Reyes Station, CA
- Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog (Pictured): Pasteurized Goat, Humboldt County, CA
- Jasper Hill Farm Constant Bliss: Raw Cow, Greensboro, VT
- Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill: Pasteurized Cow, Thomasville, GA
- Brillat Savarin: Pasteurized Cow, Normandy, France
- Nevat: Pasteurized Goat or Sheep, Catalonia, Spain
That should get you started... especially on a snowy winter's day.