How To Smoke Cheese
Smoking your own cheese is an easy activity that you can perform with your backyard gas or charcoal grill. It doesn’t necessarily require special equipment and results in a delicious and unique take on traditional cheeses. We’ll go through how to smoke cheese at home so you can impress your friends and family.
Smoked cheese is the wonderful thing that happens when you expose cheese to a lot of smoke over a long period of time.
Smoking cheese adds unexpected flavor notes to something that is already pretty flavorful. It’s an extra step in the process of cheesemaking, which explains the higher price tag at the store. The question is: is it worth the extra money?
Most people’s taste buds say yes. Smoking cheese adds subtle meaty, earthy and toasty flavors without overwhelming the cheese altogether.
Smoking cheese also extends the life of the cheese. Anyone who has found moldy cheese in their refrigerator can appreciate this benefit.
So, if we agree that smoked cheese is worth the extra cost, what about saving some money and smoking some cheese yourself? How hard can it be?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are still a few questions that need answering first.
- Which Cheese Is Good for Smoking?
- How Do I Choose the Chips?
- How Do I Prepare the Cheese?
- How To Smoke Cheese: 3 Methods
- I’ve Smoked My Cheese, Now What Do I Do?
- Final Words
Which Cheese Is Good for Smoking?
Most cheeses that smoke well are semi-hard cheeses.
Soft cheese, like brie, can be delicious smoked, but requires a little more expertise. Maybe give those a try later.
Hard cheeses, like parmesan, don’t need the extra flavor and, because they’re close to impenetrable, don’t really take smoke well.
The good news is that the semi-hard cheeses that are good for smoking are probably already some of your go-to cheeses. Good old-fashioned cheddar is a great place to start. It’s the perfect consistency for sucking up that smoke and really benefits from the added flavor. Other cheeses to try are gouda, swiss, pepper jack and a firm mozzarella.
These are your training wheel cheeses. Once you’ve mastered the method, you can move on to more expensive and challenging cheeses.
How Do I Choose the Chips?
Chips are pieces of wood that, when burned, will determine the flavor of your smoked cheese. Of course, it’s up to you, but there are a few things you should know.
The rule of thumb is: the stronger the cheese, the milder the chip. It makes sense that a super flavory cheese will do better with a subtle smoke and your flavor challenged cheese needs a bigger boost.
Now What About the Types of Flavor?
Different types of wood bring out different flavors of smoke.
If you want to add a bacon-like flavor to your cheese (and who doesn’t?) try hickory, pecan or oak wood. They work especially well with the cheddars. These chips are intensely flavored, so they’ll work better with the blander cheese.
Sweetness can also be a nice addition to cheese. Sugar maple wood chips are great at giving cheese a delicate sweet layer of flavor.
If maple sounds a little too sweet for you, consider a mild fruity addition. This is a more nuanced sweetness. Here you can try cherry or apple wood chips. The emphasis is on subtlety—it’s not going to take over your cheese taste, but add a fruity level of flavor. The wood chip scale considers these to be mild and great for already flavorful cheeses.
How Do I Prepare the Cheese?
The preparation instructions for the cheese are the same for all of the methods below. I recommend buying a large block of cheese, as you will save money in the long run.
Buy it at the grocery store and get the best value. Don’t worry; you’re going to be amping up the flavor. Also, using cheaper cheese takes the pressure off if you’re a beginner.
Once you’ve got the big block home, cut it down into smaller blocks: 2 by 3-inch rectangles. This gives the smoke more area to add flavor to.
How To Smoke Cheese: 3 Methods
Choosing the best method for you depends on your type of grill and the equipment you have on hand.
Gas Grill Method With Hot Plate
The first thing you need to know is that you aren’t going to be turning on your grill. Everyone knows that cheese melts pretty easily, and a lit grill will make a big messy pile of your cheese in minutes.
Instead, you’re simply using your grill as an outdoor chamber that will expose your cheese to smoke. Why do we use a grill? Well, it’s an enclosed but ventilated piece of metal that smoke won’t damage.
In addition to the cheese and the grill, you’ll need:
- Wood chips.
- A 750-watt hot plate.
- One aluminum pie pan.
- Aluminum foil.
- One aluminum cake pan.
- Ice cubes.
- Cake rack or cooking grate.
I know it seems a little unorthodox to put a hot plate in your gas grill, but remember, you aren’t turning your gas grill on. The only heat in there comes from the hot plate.
Place your hot plate on the left side of the grill. Make sure you have electricity available but don’t turn it on yet.
Put a handful of wood chips on an aluminum plate and cover them with aluminum foil with about 10 holes poked in it. This goes on the hot plate.
On the right side of the grill, place an aluminum cake pan full of ice. On top of that, put a cooking grate or a cake cooling rack. This is where your cheese is going to sit and is what will keep your cheese under 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Any higher, and there’s a fear of the cheese melting.
Turn the hot plate on to a low setting. Once you see some smoke coming off of the chips, put your cheese on the rack above the ice. Make sure to keep some space between the blocks of cheese. You can now close the cover of your grill.
It’s not, however, time to put your feet up and have a beer.
You’ve got to keep your eye on two things: the smoke and the temperature.
If the smoke dies, you have to do one of two things. Add more wood chips or, if there’s still wood chips, you need to turn up the heat on the hot plate.
If the temperature is heading up above 90 degrees, there is the risk of the cheese melting. You’ve got to turn down the hot plate.
You can smoke like this for anywhere between one to three hours. You’ll probably need
to add more wood chips to keep it going for that long.
Charcoal Grill Method
Besides the cheese and the grill, you’ll need:
- A handful of charcoal.
- One aluminum cake pan.
- Ice cubes.
- Cake rack or cooking grate.
Under the cooking grill of your charcoal barbecue, on the left side, place a few pieces of charcoal and light them. Once they have gone ashy, add a handful of wood chips on top and wait for them to start smoking.
The right side of the grill is the same as the above method: cheese on top of ice. Place the cheese and ice as far from the smoking wood chips as possible.
Again, resist the temptation to take a break. You need to monitor the amount of smoke and the temperature. Pull up a lawn chair and relax, but stay attentive.
If the smoke dies down, you’ll probably have to add some more charcoal briquettes and wood chips.
Keep an eye on the temperature. Removing some of the charcoal will reduce the heat. You can use barbecue tongs to do that.
Halfway through the smoking period, rotate your cheese, front to back and flip them over.
Two to three hours of smoking will be about right. Obviously, the longer you smoke, the more flavor you’ll get.
Tube Smoker Method With Any Grill Style
To use this method, you are going to have to purchase a tube smoker. It’s not terribly expensive, and it makes smoking cheese quite a bit easier. You can also use it for smoking meat.
A tube smoker is a metal tube with holes running up and down. You simply fill it with the wood chips of your choice, light it, and lay it down on your grill.
The tube smoker produces very little heat, but still, you should keep it as far from the cheese as possible.
Because it doesn’t produce heat, you can forgo the ice in the cake pan situation. As long as it’s a coolish day, you should be fine. You can place the cheese blocks directly on your grill, keeping them from touching each other.
You can leave this smoking for one to two hours. The same rule applies: keep an eye on it for a lack of smoke and temperature over 90 degrees.
I’ve Smoked My Cheese, Now What Do I Do?
I know the smoking process has been a bit of a waiting game. You’ve heard the expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, the same goes for smoked cheese. So get comfortable because you’ll have to wait some more.
Wrap, Label and Refrigerate
Once you’ve smoked the cheese, it’s time to wrap it loosely in parchment paper. If you have smoked a variety of cheeses, it’s a good idea to label the parchment paper to remind yourself what’s inside.
Also, if you’ve been playing with the length of the smoking time, you should record that on the parchment paper. When you find the perfect combination of cheese and smoking time, you’ll definitely want to be able to repeat it.
Once the cheese is under wraps, it’s got to sit in the refrigerator for a day or two to let the flavor penetrate. The cheese is breathing, so make sure to use parchment or another breathable wrap.
Seal It Up
Once the cheese has had a chance to breathe, it’s time to seal it up. A vacuum sealer will be the best way to seal up your cheese, but there is another way.
Put the cheese in a sealable sandwich bag and submerge it in water. Keep a small portion of the top of the bag open and keep the opening above the water line. The water will push out the air from the bag. Once all or most of the air is out, seal the bag.
At this point, you should label the cheeses again.
Now, the cheese is going back in the fridge. We are still building Rome, after all. This time it’s for up to two weeks.
Why All the Waiting?
Maybe you snuck a bite of the cheese right after smoking. If you did, you probably noticed that the smoky flavor is a little too intense. And it’s only on the surface of the cheese. This two-week waiting period allows the smoky goodness to seep into the rest of the cheese. It also mellows the flavor out.
Are We There Yet?
After two weeks, the waiting is over, and it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The good news is that you can enjoy these smoked cheeses in the same way that you enjoy regular cheese. There are a few tasting experiences that you should not miss out on with your smoked cheese.
The addition of smoked cheese sends the perennial favorite, Mac ‘n Cheese, to new levels of deliciousness. Confuse and delight your guests with this smoky take on a classic. Hamburgers and pizza will also take a liking to the smoky flavors of mozzarella and cheddar.
For more sophisticated events, smoked cheese will be a welcome addition to a charcuterie platter. Think about adding some fresh, crisp apples.
Fondue is making a comeback, and adding a few blocks of smoked gouda will give it a new life. The same goes for crepes.
And last but not least, grate a little smoked cheddar on top of your favorite soup. It’s an easy way to bring new life to a drab lunch.
Cheese is already delicious, but our food-focused society is always looking for ways of making the delicious more delicious.
Visiting the deli and buying smoked cheese is pretty easy. But knowing how to smoke cheese and going through the process of making your own shows real creativity. It will also save you money and impress your guests. Think of it as a quirky hobby that’s a great way to create personalized and thoughtful gifts for friends and family.