Before I started my journey into cheese, I was under the impression that the really stinky cheeses were blue. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was incorrect. Although blue cheeses can be raunchy, the REAL stinkers are washed-rind cheeses, sometimes called “smear-rind” cheese. The reason for this is the extra bacterial goodness they have-because sometimes, internal paste bacteria just isn’t good enough! As these special cheeses age, they are regularly “washed” or smeared with something or other that encourages bacteria to bloom all along the surface. These surface bacteria generally smell something like feet, giving these cheeses that fabulous “I haven’t showered forever and have just walked 20 miles through the jungle and now removed my socks” odour that I am so very fond of.
Thus, I have great hopes for today’s cheese, a beer-smeared Belgian cow’s cheese, made by Trappist monks in their very own Abbey. I’m not really sure why Trappist monks have such a connection with smeared-cheeses, but they do, and let’s not quibble. People who dedicate their lives to prayer and smeared cheese are a-ok in my books, so a minute of quite reflection and thanks for the monks of Chimay.
Trappist monks have been making cheese in the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont since 1876. Chimay country is cow country, and there is a long history of farmstead cheese-making in this area (just north of the French border.) Chimay cheese continues this tradition, and is made from the milk of local cows around the abbey- although this is a modernized operation, (praise the lord!) The monks of Chimay make four kinds of cheese, but they also make several types of beer. In this case, their cheese is smeared with their beer, bringing together the very best of both worlds. Interestingly, one of the ales made at the monastery is exclusively for the monks. Jealous!
The store-created label on my sample of cheese says that it is made of raw milk, but the Chimay website refers to pasteurization, so I’m going to go with this one being a pasteurized cheese. If it’s really important to you, check this one out for yourself, as there is some ambiguity. It’s a handsome cheese, with a gorgeous orange natural washed-rind, a little bumpy, like a yeasty sandpaper created by the development of the Bacterium Linens culture. It almost smells like a bread rising, mixed with a little bit of cheese, mmmm, cheese bread. The interior paste is quite yellow and giving, there are a few small eyes in the paste.
Mmmm, it’s quite supple and smooth, with just a hint of armpit. The interior paste is just divine, the texture is so inviting and springy and sticky. The rind is more intense with a faint whiff of ammonia-but not overwhelming. The rind is ever so slightly bitter, but this is common in beer-smeared cheeses, it’s not off-putting, and has tiny little salt crystal crunch which mixes in nicely with the paste. Actually, it’s pretty tame for a washed-rind cheese. This would be a good “starter” washed-rind cheese for the stinky cheese newbie, one gets that feeling of old feet without being overwhelmed-plus the texture is just divine.