Q & A with Craig Hageman
Craig Hageman, our head cheesemaker, gets all kinds of questions from new and long-time Alemar Cheese fans. Here, he shares some of the most common queries:
What is the white stuff? Can you eat it?
First of all, yes, you can eat it. [He encourages it!] The white, bloomy rind actually expands the flavor of the cheese, adding an earthy, mushroomy, slightly bitter note. A little bit of rind and a little bit of paste in each bite is the perfect mix.
The bloomy rind comes from a mold called penicillium candidum. After the cheese is formed, it is left to ripen in a controlled environment. It takes about 10 days for the beautiful white, bloomy rind to develop on our Bent River cheese and about 13 days for it to develop on Blue Earth. At that point, we wrap it in a special breathable cheese paper and move it into cold storage to stop the mold growth. Otherwise, the rind would just keep going and going and going and you would end up with a white, furry monster [like an elderly chia pet].
Don’t worry; penicillium candidum is not the same as the penicillin you get from your doctors. If you are allergic to antibiotics, it will not affect you in any way. We test for antibiotics to make sure it is safe for everyone. It is just the name of the mold.
What is the difference between the rinds on Bent River, Blue Earth and Good Thunder?
Bent River and Blue Earth have white, bloomy, mold rinds. Good Thunder is a washed rind or a smear-ripened cheese. We hand wash each piece of Good Thunder (once a week for three weeks) with a combination of beer, salt and culture, so it actually has a bacterium rind instead of the mold rind.
How did you choose Surly Bender beer for the Good Thunder cheese wash?
We definitely wanted to use a Minnesota beer. A local beer adds to the time and place of Minnesota that is so important to our cheeses. After trying a bunch of different kinds of beer, [perhaps an excuse to drink a lot of beer on the company dime?] we found that Surly Bender worked the best. It is not too hoppy and it has some nice roasted, malty flavors that worked really well with the cheese. The rind already has a slightly earthy/bitter note and when we washed it with a hoppy beer, it became too bitter. We had to find something that was not necessarily sweet, but had some sweet grains to it. There is something about the oats and other grain flavors of the Surly Bender that we think works perfectly on Good Thunder.
[Editor’s note: We know that cheese lovers have inquiring minds. If you have additional questions for Craig, let us know and we will keep the information coming.]