Smoked cheese – my first attempt at cold smoking
I’ve been intrigued by the idea of curing & smoking food for a while but I only started to seriously consider doing it when Martin from Old Sleningford Farm mentioned a) how cheap cheddar can be transformed by a little time in a smoker and b) how easy it is to build a garden smokehouse.
About a month ago, I decided it would be a perfect project for this year’s birthday new fun craft/experience/skill and started reading into it in more detail. It’s a lot easier to build a hot smoker and there were a number of smokers-cum-bbqs on eBay – but that wouldn’t let me do cheese, and I like smoked cheese a lot. I thought I’d have to build a smoker with an external firebox, feeding the cooling smoke into the chamber via piping – and the thought of that overwhelmed me a little. Then by complete chance, I stumbled upon the ProQ Cold Smoke Generator.
The ProQ Cold Smoke Generator was only developed last year but it’s a wonderful combination of simplicity & genius. Obviously I’m new to smoking so I can’t compare it to other methods – but every other method I’ve read about was way more complicated that this. It’s a carefully (but not overly) engineered spiral of metal mesh. It doesn’t use gas or electricity – just a few seconds of a tealight to get started, then the sawdust smoulders away of its own accord for up to 10hrs, without any further intervention, stoking or encouragement. I think what finally won me over though was the instructions on the ProQ/Mac’s BBQ site showing how, with the CSG, you could make a smokehouse from a cardboard box, two bits of dowel, an old baking tray and some cooling racks. Recycling and frugal!
I started the day yesterday making a box smoker vaguely according to that how-to. I say “vaguely” because I taped all the box’s flaps up for strength, then needed to add an access flap (to stop smoke seeping out the sides of the flap, I extended the size of the flap by a couple of inches on each side by sticking extra cardboard on top of it). Because it threatened to rain all day, I ended up setting it up in the greenhouse – it wasn’t any warmer in there than outside and it would keep the cardboard dry. Not really ideal though because it would have got hotter if the sun had come out again – will have to find a better spot for next time.
I smoked three lots of cheese but even though all the smoking books/guides say to use the best materials you can get, the cheese was nothing particularly special as I wanted to try out Martin’s “cheap cheddar made great” claim. I got two cheddars – one more mature than the other – and a much milder Double Gloucester, to see what would happen to that. I sliced them all into 2cmx2cm blocks as recommended in all the guides – to get more smoke penetration.
I also wanted to test different amounts of time in the smoker. At least three guides/forums I’ve read say “everyone says smoke cheese for 2-3 hours, I say 4-6, but it’s just a matter of personal taste” so I decided to try a few different timings to see what our “personal taste” is. I took one batch – one piece of each cheese – out after 3 hours, another after 6 and left the last three pieces in for the full 10hrs of smoke provided by the CSG. When each batch came out, I patted off the surface moisture, wrapped them in parchment paper and put them in the fridge. The guides all recommended leaving them to rest for at least overnight but preferably a week, to let the flavour develop properly. So that’s why I’ve not gone into the tasting side of thing here – that’ll come in another post later in the week.
Finally, the other variable was which wood to use. I got a selection pack of sawdust from Mac’s BBQs and Mac’s site recommends apple, cherry or hickory for cheese. I fancied trying oak though because I’ve had a number of nice oak-smoked cheeses recently – so I used that. It might be a bit too strong for these cheese though – we’ll see in a week!
All in all though, this stage has been lots of fun – the CSG made it easy and trouble-free. I got on with a lot of other stuff during the afternoon without having to tend/worry about the smoking. I definitely want to try smoking more things – I think it would be interesting to try fish or meat next.