Smoking cheese gives it a nutty, smoky flavor that makes a world of difference compared to regular cheese. Many smoked cheeses that you buy at the deli are often expensive and can sometimes be hit or miss when it comes to flavor and overall quality. The good thing is that it is easy enough to smoke cheese on your own at home, as long as you have the right tools.
Any cheese that is hard enough so it won’t slip through your smoker or grill grates can be cold smoked. One that is hard and mild usually yields the best results.
Unfortunately, cheeses that are too soft quickly absorb the smoke, which can ruin them with an overpowering smoky flavor that drowns out the cheesiness. Plus, soft cheeses can also melt way too fast, leaving you with a giant mess on your hands.
The Best Types of Cheese for Beginners
For beginners, try starting with a gouda or a mild cheddar, both of which are some of the more popular cheeses to cold smoke. What’s more, these cheeses are hard enough to stand up to higher smoking temperatures and artfully absorb the smoky flavor without becoming overwhelmed by them. Other popular types of cheese for smoking include cheddar, mozzarella, and pepper jack cheese.
The cold smoking process only takes about two hours, but then it has to be vacuum sealed and left to rest in your refrigerator for about two weeks before it is ready to eat. This extra time is needed for the taste to develop. Right after smoking, the cheese usually has a harsh taste, so it’s best to wait it out for the best cheese-eating experience.
The Importance of Temperature Control
Controlling your temperature is extremely important when it comes to cold smoking cheese since it can begin to melt at temperatures between 80°F and 90°F. Try to keep your smoker below this range by using a smoker thermometer.
Once smoked, use a vacuum sealer to seal the cheese before storing it in your refrigerator. If properly sealed, many kinds of cheese can last for a year or more. With that said, it’s important to note that you should never freeze your cheese. Doing so will ruin the smooth texture and cause your cheese to crumble.
How to Cold Smoke Cheese
Since it can start to sweat at temperatures above 90 °F (32 °C), use the “cold smoke” method for the best smoked-cheese results. You can buy a cold smoker designed for this purpose, but you can also DIY it by using some household supplies. Below, we’ll go over the proper steps that you will need to learn before you know how to smoke cheese.
You want the vapors to seep into the entire block of cheese. To aid in this process, remove the rind and cut the cheese into small wedges about four inches long. Cutting into smaller pieces will reduce the total smoking time since more of the cheese’s surface is exposed to the smoke. Keep in mind, though, that if you want a softer inside with a smoky outer skin, it is fine to cut the cheese into larger pieces.
Plus, it is easier to start with softer cheese that is already at room temperature rather than trying to prepare it frozen. Let your cheese rest at room temperature for about one or two hours before you start smoking. This will allow any moisture to seep out, which you can then wipe off for better skin results.
Finding the right type of wood is essential for the quality of your smoke flavor. You want a wood that compliments your type of cheese. Similar to how important wood is for smoking meat, cheese smoked with wood is equally important.
For Softer Milder Cheeses
If you are smoking a soft, mild cheese, try a lighter, mild wood like cherry, pecan, or apple. If you are smoking strong-flavored, harder cheeses, try wood like oak, hickory, chestnut, or alder. You can even add wood pellets or wood chips when the heat begins to dip too low.
Now that you know the basics of how to smoke cheese, let’s focus on some critical components in the smoking process.
Keep the Temperature Low
Try to keep the cold smoking temperature below 90°F. This is easier to do on a cool day, so you aren’t fighting with the sun or hot outdoor temperatures. The last thing you want is for your cheese to sweat too much or melt.
Avoid Warmer Weather
Trying to cold smoke in warmer weather will make the cheese much more likely to melt because the outside temperature will aid in heating up the chamber. If you really want to smoke in the summertime, try to start it early in the morning or later in the evening once the temperatures have died down.
Utilize Ice Pans
These are a great way to keep the temperature low. Similar to water pans used for hot smoking, ice pans will keep the ambient temperature in your smoking device cool, and let the vapor penetrate well. Simply rest the cheese near an aluminum pan filled with ice or ice water on the wire rack, or place it underneath it. Add more ice when needed.
It is best practice to turn your cheese at regular intervals every 15 to 30 minutes to ensure the smoke penetrates all surfaces equally. You want a consistent smoke flavor once your smoked cheese is complete.
Generate Smoke Consistently
Monitor your heat source to ensure that your outdoor grill or smoker is maintaining enough smoke at a constant stream. If there’s not enough or too much vapor, it could affect the nutty flavor that you’re trying to achieve. You can add a few small wood chips or wood pellets at certain time intervals.
How to Set up Your Smoker
You can use either a charcoal grill or a gas grill in place of a smoker if necessary. Alternatively, you may also use an offset or pellet smoker, as long as it maintains good ventilation. This ensures that you will achieve a respectable smoke flavor.
Watch Your Heat
Remember, we don’t want your gas grill or charcoal grill to be too hot, as too much heat leads to a melty mess. The grill simply holds the cheese while it is smoked. You will need a tube smoker for the smoking process.
Light your tube smoker to where there is only vapor and no flames emerging. Use a grill surface thermometer to ensure that the heat doesn’t exceed 90°F (32°C).
Place the wedges onto the wire rack or grill grates. Don’t set them too close together; allow enough space for airflow. Once the wedges are appropriately placed, close the grill or smoker lid and let it sit for a couple of hours.
Absorption Is Key
You want to give it enough time for the cheese to absorb enough smoke without the flavors overwhelming the cheese.
Once your cheese has smoked for about two hours, carefully remove the wedges from the smoker and wrap them in aluminum foil or parchment paper. Make sure not to wrap too tightly to allow the cheese to breathe.
Allow to Chill
Move the wrapped cheese to the refrigerator and leave for 24 hours. Once the day is up, unwrap from the foil or paper and vacuum seal your cheese before storing it in an airtight container. Finally, let your smoked cheese rest in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks to allow all the flavors to balance out and give you the most desirable outcome. Once your cheese has chilled, you can use a cheese grater to shred it and serve.
How Long to Smoke Cheese
One of the most important aspects of how to smoke cheese is knowing how long to let smoke penetrate. With the correct method, you can look forward to optimal results.
Options to Consider
Once you have properly set up your smoker or grill, you need to know how long to smoke your cheese. Most cheese smokers cold smoke their cheese anywhere from 1-3 hours, but there are always a few options to consider when it comes to timing.
- If your cheese blocks are thick, they’ll need to be smoked longer. An easy way to save time is by cutting the cheese with a cheese slicer into smaller wedges so more of the surface is exposed to the vapor.
- If you are working with a harder cheese, you’ll need to expose it to more vapor versus a softer type like smoked gouda.
- If you are a smoked cheese beginner or are using a particular variety of cheese, lessen the smoke time until you learn how the cheese should properly taste.
- An easy way to see what you like best is to start smoking several blocks of cheese at the same time and then remove them in 30 or 60-minute intervals to see what tastes best overall. Then you can adjust the smoke time from there.
Pay Attention to Your Time
Smoking time will ultimately depend on the type of cheese you are working with and what you prefer it to taste like. Smoking cheese can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Longer times result in stronger smoky and nutty flavors. Keep in mind that any extra moisture on the block will absorb more smoke particles, which will boost the taste.
Most of the time, softer cheeses take less time to smoke than harder cheeses. Experimentation is one of the best ways to get it right and to your liking. Once you have smoked many a cheese, you may learn to recognize times based on the color of the rind.
Watch Your Time
Practice makes perfect when it comes to cold-smoking cheese. If you are using a harder cheese, like gouda or cheddar, it’s a general rule of thumb to only smoke it for about two hours. leave it in the smoker for about 2 hours. By then it will develop a good taste and color without being too overexposed to vapor.
Plus, the cheese will absorb smoky flavors much faster than brisket and barbecue. When in doubt, less time is better to avoid an overpowering acrid taste.
Easy Cold Smoked Cheese Recipe
Below is an easy way to make your own smoked cheese at home in your grill or smoker. Try using applewood in your grill on a cold day for the best results. Read on to learn how to smoke cheese at home and make the ultimate comfort food.
Course: Side Dish
Cook Time: 2 hours
- Charcoal smoker
- Smoke tube
- Grill surface thermometer
- Parchment paper
- 8 lbs Gouda cheese or mild cheddar
- Set up your smoker or grill to cold smoke by using either a smoke tube or cold smoke generator. Add in the applewood chips. Use a grill surface thermometer to make sure the air temperature does not go above 80°F or 26°C.
- Place your cheese blocks on the grill grate. Close the lid and leave for 2 hours. Turn your cheese over every 30 minutes to ensure the smoke covers the entire surface area for stronger flavors. Add wood chips when needed.
- Remove your cheese from the heat source and firmly wrap it in parchment paper, allowing enough wiggle room for the cheese to breathe.
- Move the cheese to your refrigerator and leave for 24 hours. Then unwrap and vacuum seal it in a bag. Leave the cheese to rest in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 weeks. Leaving the cheese longer will allow for better flavor distribution and balance.
Smoked Cheese Is the Ultimate Comfort Food
Smoked cheese imparts a unique flavor, especially when done by an experienced smoker. When done well, smoked cheese can taste subtly meaty, earthy, and toasty.
And It Helps Preserve
As a plus, smoking also helps preserve the cheese for longer periods of time, which was especially valuable before the invention of refrigeration was invented. Today, cheesemakers smoke cheese because they like the way it tastes. As you begin your smoked cheese journey, below are some cheese to try out:
- Turkish Smoked Cheese, or “Füme Peyniri”
- Kapnisto Metzovone (Greek)
- Gamonedo (Spanish)
- San Simon (Spanish)
- Fiore Sardo (Italian)
- Smoked Mozzarella
- Idiazabal (Spanish)
- Smoked Cheddar
- Smoked Gouda
Final Thoughts on How to Smoke Cheese
Remember, smoking cheese is all about controlling your temperature and working with the right amount of heat. Just as you would do to achieve the perfect meat on your grill or smoker, smoked cheese requires perfection from start to finish.