March 17th, 2012


Smoked Cheese

My verdict: the first attempt to use the smoker was a qualified success.

What I meant to do (there's foreshadowing in those five words): I was following a recipe for cold-smoking cheese by using a heat shield and an ice tray to keep the cheese cool, setting the smoker at its highest heat setting for twenty minutes, then letting it cool for an hour with no added heat, then repeating the cycle of twenty minutes of hot wood, an hour cool.

What I actually did: when it was time to add wood chips and turn the heat up for the second twenty-minute phase, I discovered that I'd set the timer for the first high-heat phase to twenty hours, not twenty minutes. Ooops. So that's more of a hot smoke than a cold smoke, and there are good reasons not to hot-smoke cheese. But I couldn't undo the mistake, so I added more chips, ran it at hot for another twenty minutes (double-checking the timer, this time) and then let it run cool for an hour.

After an hour, I opened it up to see what had happened. The cheese had melted completely. (This is the reason not to hot-smoke cheeses.) But I had set a disposable pie plate underneath the cheese, just in case it tended to melt. The white cheddar cheese had settled into the pan and solidified into a mottled orange-and-brown puddle.

I had no idea whether this would be tasty or not, but I felt sure it would be safe after being at 275° F for an hour and forty minutes. So I carved off a bite-sized bit with a spoon and tried it.
It was delicious. The smoking had mellowed out a fairly sharp cheddar cheese and given it a rich smoky character. It had even solidified into a layer flat enough to be right thickness to top a cracker. The texture was perhaps a bit off, but overall it was very tasty indeed.

So, a success, but a qualified success. I hope not to hot-smoke cheese by accident again, but I might do it on purpose.

Details that aren't relevant to the story but which I might care about in the future: the cheese was a New York sharp cheddar. I used one cup of hickory chips (soaked for an hour) each time I loaded the smoker.