A local supermarket used to sell one of my favourite cheeses, oak-smoked Wensleydale. It was utterly delicious, and a regular purchase. Then one day it disappeared from the cheese counter, and a response from their HQ confirmed it was no longer stocked. Sad face.
But they continued to sell normal Wensleydale. And I do have a smoking device …
Smoking cheese at home needs two things:
- Something to generate smoke without generating heat that will affect the cheese.
- A closed container that can allow air, and smoke, to flow through it.
I use a ProQ Cold Smoke Generator. This uses a tea light to burn wood dust very slowly to generate a small amount of smoke. It’s ideal for smoking in a Big Green Egg (I use this) or covered BBQ, such as a Weber. There needs to be minimal airflow through the Egg/BBQ, open top and bottom vents a tiny crack to keep the dust embers alive without generating significant heat.
The burner comes with some wood dust, once you’ve used that though you can get more from most BBQ dealers. I buy mine from Smokewood Shack in the UK.
The smoke generator will create a small amount of heat. The platesetter in a Big Green Egg can be used to counter this, in a BBQ you can put the cheese on a rack over a tray above the smoker.
If you don’t have an Egg or covered BBQ, you can place the burner in a metal cake tin (or similar), put the cheese on a rack over the cake tin and cover with a large, clean, cardboard box with a hole in the side. It doesn’t have to be high-tech, just hygienic.
Decide which cheeses you want to smoke. Hard cheeses are a safe choice because unless it’s cold day (assuming you’re smoking outside, see hints and tips section), a soft cheese such as Brie can collapse. I smoked these cheeses:
- Strong cheddar
- Double Gloucester
- Red Leicester
Choose an appropriate smoke to go with the cheeses and also your tastes. In general, hard, strong-smelling cheeses are smoked with oak, cherry and hickory. Personally I’m not a fan of hickory outside of chili, so I stick with oak or, less often, cherry. For softer, mild cheeses, I go with woods such as apple, cedar or pecan.
- An hour before you start to smoke the cheese, take it out of the fridge (still wrapped) and place it in the smoker. This is to get it to the same ambient temperature and avoid any moisture build-up.
- Cut the cheeses into small blocks, 2 inch cubes are a decent size.
- Light the smoker, unwrap the cheese and place it on a rack in the smoking unit. Close the smoking unit.
- Smoke the cheese for 3-6 hours depending on the level of smoke you want. I go for 5-6 hours for a relatively strong smoke flavour.
- Remove the cheese from the smoker. Some oil will have appeared on the surface, wipe this off with kitchen towel.
- Tightly wrap the cheese in clingfilm (or vacuum seal if you have one of these units) and store in the fridge for at least a week to allow the smoke flavours to integrate. Cheese can be stored like this for 2-3 months.
Hints, Tips and Pictures
- Smoke on a cool/cold day so that your cheese does not melt. Even hard cheeses will become soft over 16°C/60°F.
- The cheese can be wrapped in greaseproof paper before vacuum sealing. I do this to stop the sweat of the cheese making a slimy mess inside the vacuum bags, so I can re-seal them easily.
- Always cold smoke outdoors or in an open, very well ventilated space. It can be done under a garden parasol or table if it’s raining, but bottom line is that cold smoking will create a small amount of smoke that is better dispersed in the outside air. The amount of smoke generated should be minimal. It won’t annoy your neighbours.
- The amount of time to leave cheese wrapped before tasting is down to personal taste. For the first time, I recommend leaving it wrapped for a week and trying, then re-wrapping/sealing, leave for another week and try again. This will let you know what your preferences are.
- Building on that point, it’s worth trying some cheese straight off the smoker to compare the taste against cheese that has been wrapped for a few days.
- An opened vacuum sealed bag can be re-sealed with leftover cheese and placed back in the fridge for storage.