Can You Eat The Brown Part Of Smoked Cheese? [Is It Safe?]

If you’ve ever smoked your own cheese on the pellet grill, then you’ve likely wondered if it’s safe to eat the brown rind that forms on the surface. So do you eat it, or throw it away?

Can You Eat The Brown Part of Smoked Cheese?

The dark rind on the surface of the cheese is usually tough, chewy, and not incredibly tasty. This is due to the fact that it is the part that the has penetrated the most smoke. Some people (not me) do eat it, but I recommend not eating it as it doesn’t taste as good as the rest of the cheese and can contain potentially carcinogenic substances.

can you eat the brown part of smoked cheese

Smoking your own cheese is a great way to add flavor to store-bought cheeses, and it’s also a fun project to do at home. But if you’re going to be smoking your cheese, it’s important to know why the rind turns dark, safety concerns and how to remove it properly.

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How to Smoke Cheese?

To better understand the browning process, we first need to understand the process of smoking your own cheese. To smoke cheese, you’ll need a smoke tube to cold smoke the cheese. Fill the tube with wood flavored pellets, once the smoke is filling the chamber, place the cheese inside.

After a couple hours, the smoke will infuse the cheese with a smoky flavorful taste. However, if you smoke the cheese too long, you’ll be left with inedible cheese that tastes burnt.

I’ve written an article on how to cold smoke cheese using the Pit Boss pellet grill. Since that article, I’ve smoked several more batches of cheese for friends and family and have still made some mistakes. Throughout the process, I always learn something new.

You can’t just take the cheese and put it in a hot oven or pellet grill with wood chips, as it would melt the cheese. The low and slow method is key to smoking cheese.

So now that we know how smoked cheese is made, let’s talk about why the rind turns brown in the smoking process.

Why Does Cheese Brown When Smoked?

Exposing cheese to smoke for long periods of time dehydrates the cheese, resulting in acidification. Meaning you’re fermenting the cheese, which controls the growth of pathogens, and other microorganisms.

Fermentation is a food preservation method that has been used for centuries. It’s what gives cheese its distinct flavor. The fermentation process is one of the reasons that smoked cheese will last longer in the fridge than other types of cheese.

The second reason the rind turns brown is due to tar formation.

When smoked, the cheese produces a sticky, dark residue called tar or creosote.

This occurs when the smoke interacts with the surface of the cheese and causes the proteins and fats to break down and form a sticky film. The creosote is the oily substance that causes foods to become bitter.

You’ll want to wipe down the cheese with a paper towel to remove the oily substance before vacuum packing the cheese.

After the cheese has mellowed out, remove the creosote (tar) from the cheese. It’s not safe to eat and can potentially harmful chemicals that can increase the chances of cancer.

According to a study by Rajbhandari and Kindstedt the brown color develops on protein based foods while smoking, due to a nonenzymatic browning reaction that involves the amino groups and carbonyl compounds. When the reaction occurs, it causes a calcium lactate crystal formation.

Some cheeses such as cheddar are more susceptible to the crystal formations than others.

Why People Smoke Cheese?

There are many reasons people smoke their own cheese, the biggest reason being is it’s an easy way to add extra flavor your favorite cheese.

Smoked cheese has a bold, intense flavor that can be used in many different dishes. It’s perfect for grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese, pizza, burgers and so much more.

Smoking your own cheese is much less expensive than buying it at the store, and it’s a fun project to do at home.

How Do You Know If The Rind Is Edible?

For the most part, whenever smoking your own cheese, the rind won’t be edible. It’s the part of the cheese that is exposed to the most smoke, and as a result, it will be bitter and unpleasant to eat.

However, if you’re buying commercially smoked cheese, the rind may be edible depending on how the cheese was smoked. Most commercially smoked cheeses are smoked with a light smoke, which doesn’t penetrate the cheese as deeply. This results in a milder flavor and a more edible rind.

What Does The Brown Rind Taste Like?

The dark brown rind on home cold smoked cheese tastes acidic and bitter and reminds me of how a house fire smells. It’s a taste that is hard to explain, but it’s not flavorful.

If you ever tasted smoked cheese as soon as it comes off the grill, it may make you think twice about smoking your own cheese, because of how awful it tastes. However, before eating the smoked cheese, it’s important to vacuum seal it and let it mellow for at least 3-4 weeks or more depending on how long you smoked it.

Then before eating it, make sure to scrape off as much of the brown part as possible. Eating the rind isn’t going to kill you, but it’s not going to taste good either.

How to Remove the Brown Rind?

Now that you know why you shouldn’t eat the smoked rind, you might be wondering how do you remove it without throwing away or wasting too much of the cheese.

There are two methods you can use to remove the dark surface of the cheese. I’ll discuss them below.

Using A Cheese Slicer

removing the brown rind from cheese using a cheese slicer

If you like smoking your own cheese, you may want to invest in a cheese slicer. I use this one and it makes it so easy to slice the cheese without wasting any of it.

To remove the rind, simply run the slicer along the surface of the cheese. It will take off the dark brown layer, without cutting into the edible part.

Using A Knife

removing the brown rind from cheese using a knife

If you don’t have a cheese slicer, you can use a sharp knife to remove the rind. Start by slicing off a thin layer of the surface, work your way around the piece of cheese until the dark brown layer is gone.

The downside of using a knife is if you cut too deep, you’ll end up cutting a lot of the edible part of the cheese off as well.

Using A Potato Peeler

removing the brown rind from cheese using a potato peeler

Another option is to use a knife to trim the outer layer of the brown surface. On the flat section (middle part) use a potato or vegetable peeler. Similar to how you’d peel a potato or carrot, you’ll peel the middle portion of the cheese.

Keep peeling until you’re satisfied that the dark surface is gone.

Does The Dark Rind Make My Cheese Taste Bad?

When the rind is too dark, it means that you’ve smoked the cheese for too long. If this happens, it’s not the end of the world, but you may find that the cheese tastes burnt even after removing the rind.

It doesn’t always mean you have to throw the cheese out. Sometimes the cheese can be salvaged, by trimming off the brown part and resealing the cheese in an airtight container or vacuum packing it.

Let it sit for a few days and then try it again. If the taste is still too strong, you can mix it with other cheeses to mellow out the flavor.

Final Word

Smoked foods in general are healthy, but when over-smoked (the dark rind) it can contain various carcinogenic compounds like formaldehyde and benzopyrenes, which an be dangerous to your health.

The key to eating smoked cheese rind is to not over-smoke it. If you do, the flavor will be too intense and bitter. When done correctly, the rind should have a nice smoky flavor that compliments the cheese inside.

If you’re unsure, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and discard the rind.

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