This Mold’s Fur Real: Cheese Mold in Bloom
Nope, this picture isn’t out of focus, the cheese is truly as fuzzy as it looks. The French call it cat fur, or poil de chat. And for good reason, as the mold on this particular family of cheese is pretty reminiscent of the coat of your furry friend. But don’t fear: it’s a mold that belongs to one of the most coveted types of cheese, and without it, there would be many sad cheese lovers, indeed.
This phenomenon– essentially the literal blooming of mold spores– is unique solely to the bloomy rinded family of cheese. The most common bloomy mold is called penicilium candidum, or p. candidum for short. Brie, camembert, humboldt fog, and some of the other great creamy, spreadable cheeses with those white fluffy rinds belong to this cheese category.
When this style of cheese ripens, mold activity takes place on the rind of the cheese. Mold spores literally bloom, becoming fuzzy and soft, like cat fur.
To the untrained eye, this mold would seem eerily similar to that unfavorable grey mold we’ve all seen in a forgotten pint of sour cream in the back of the fridge, or an undecipherable item from long ago in a tupperware container.
But this mold is not bad mold. In fact, it’s natural, and moreover, it’s vital to this style of cheese. In short, it makes brie brie.
So why don’t you see cheese with such pronounced, unapologetically fuzzy rinds in your cheese store? To promote an even and proper rind development, an affineur, the technical term for someone who ages cheese, will pat down the mold growth with his fingers until the cheese is ready for sale, with a fully developed rind. By the time a bloomy rinded cheese is ready for market, the growth of mold on its rind may have been patted down dozens of times.
So whatever you call this mold– bloomy, fuzzy, furry, or something in a foreign language, embrace it. It’s something you should fur sure learn to love.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Mindy’s Recipe For Disaster)