Washed Rind Season

By now, you have probably seen them at cheese counters: small, moonish orange wheels wrapped in balsa wood or bark. Glory is upon us, dear ones. Thanksgiving isn’t just about turkey and pumpkins; it’s the season of washed rind cheeses. If you haven’t planned Thursday’s cheese plate yet, get on the phone this instant and call in an order for one of the following: Rush Creek (pictured above), Winnimere, or Vacherin Mont d’Or.

You won’t be disappointed. These flavorful and sensuously goopy cheeses are perfect for serving around the holidays. All you do is let the cheese come to room temperature and set out some baguette rounds and celery sticks. Nothing could be easier. Forget the stodgy Brie, and go for something special and seasonal.

Look how she runs…a perfectly ripe Rush Creek

Washed rind cheeses wax in November and wane around March. Why the short season?

Many of these delicacies are made from raw milk, requiring an aging period of at least 60 days (in the U.S.). Sixty days ago, the cows were coming off summer pasture and beginning to eat heavier grasses. In early cheesemaking cultures, this transition often inspired a shift in recipes, from firm mountain-style cheeses to softies that accrued flavor from gentle baths of beer, brine, or hard liquor.

Those washes imbue cheese with a delicate funk and create an environment where the center of the wheel literally begins to liquefy. Vacherin Mont d’Or (above) is so soft and runny that it has to be stored in balsa wood to keep it from oozing all over.

Here’s a quick primer in how to distinguish these beauties:

Vacherin Mont d’Or: A sensual number from Vaud, Switzerland. This import is pasteurized but still exquisite — in an earlier post, I called this a “peignoir cheese” because it reminded me of a silky nightie. If you can find Vacherin, prepare to lose your mind. The texture is like loose fabric; the flavor is all mountain streams and melted butter. I like to serve it with boiled new potatoes and fondue forks.

Rush Creek: Uplands Dairy in Wisconsin takes the lead from Swiss cheesemakers to produce one of the most sought-after washed rinds in America. When this raw-milk cheese debuted a few years ago, American cheese fiends went gaga for its gooey center. A splashy write-up in the TimesĀ made it impossible to find. Look for a hint of cherry amid the woodland notes of this soothing Badger State beauty. If you can find fresh cherries, serve them alongside.

Winnimere: Vermont rings in autumn with this coppery beefcake. To my palate, this is the meatiest show girl in the mix. Winnimere always makes me think of the word “whinney” — it’s so bold and succulent that whenever I taste it, I feel compelled to let out a shrill cry. Hunter Fike at Di Bruno Bros. taught me to pair this cheese with marmalade. Simply brilliant.

Jasper Hill’s Winnemere

Keep in mind that these cheeses may be hard to find — if even one of them is available to you, snatch it up. Then run right home and lock your doors. You never know who may have followed you home.


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5 Responses to “Washed Rind Season”
  1. Marisa says:

    Oh god, Winnemere. That is the cheese of my dreams.

  2. Jill says:

    It would not be the holidays without Rush Creek. I don’t know how we survived without it a mere three years ago.

  3. Good gracious, these pictures are so sensual. I feel like I must enlist your help here, though… but first, a confession. I do not like brie. At all. In fact, I shy away from a lot of soft washed rind cheeses. Something about that overwhelming funk makes me wrinkle my nose. Strange, too, for I like my blue cheese hair-raisingly assertive and my goat cheese extra gamey.

    But I really WANT to like this type of cheese, especially since they are so beautiful and seem to pair nicely with foods I love. So can you suggest a baby-steps course into liking soft cheese?

    • tdarlington says:

      Hmmm…what a thought-provoking question, Cozy H. I’d suggest Harbison, a gooey Vermonter wrapped in bark. I just took it to a Thanksgiving party where I knew that the crowd would not rock any funk. The secret to liking Harbison is that you have to think “cake batter.” It’s sweet, goopy. Make sure it’s ripe (feels soft in the center, not firm), then dig into it with a spoon. Before you spring for a wheel, though, ask to try a bite at a cheese counter. You can find Harbison around Philly right now. It’s not a washed rind, but it’s a good step towards one. Rustic. Woodsy. Not shroomy.

  4. Thank you for the suggestion! I’m off to track down some Harbison. I am determined to like these soft cheeses!

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