Smoked food has become a passion for me, and I usually have one of my smokers in action at least two times a week. We smoke (BBQ) spareribs, tri-tip roasts, turkey, chicken, homemade pastrami, pulled pork, brisket, and even pizza. But one of our more common cooks is “cold smoked cheese”. The flavor is much better than the “smoked” cheeses that you find in the market. Those are typically processed cheeses with chemical additives used for smoke flavoring.
You don’t need a smoker in order to smoke cheese; there are actually numerous methods for doing it without a smoker. Today I used a Weber Kettle, and you could use this same method with a gas BBQ (without the gas) as well. So here is the rundown on how to do it:
You can smoke pretty much any cheese; our favorites are Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Havarti, and Mozzarella. You can even smoke nuts using this method. Today we are cold smoking Tillamook Monterey Pepper Jack and a Mozzarella Cheese.
The objective is to get two hours of smoke on your cheese without melting it, hence the term “cold smoked”. The easiest way to do this is when the temperature outside is less than 50 degrees. Night time is usually best in my area, but temperatures this morning in Groveland were very accommodating for a cold smoke.
You will need airflow to keep your coals lit so open the bottom vents of your BBQ and crack the lid vents half way open. I use a charcoal starter to light two charcoals, and once they are lit, I place them on the far side of the charcoal grate. I put two unlit coals next to them, to keep the coals going longer, and then place something like a fist sized chunk of wood on top of the coals. The wood should be dry, not soaked.
What type of wood do you use? It should be a “hardwood” and locally I like to use Manzanita, Oak, or any fruit tree wood. Avoid using softwoods such as Pine or Cedar. Today I am using a chunk of pear wood. Your cheese should be placed as far away from the coals as is possible, to keep it from melting. Larger blocks of cheese can be halved as I have done here, that the smoke may penetrate better.
The next step is to put the lid on, and within a short time you should see smoke emanating from the lid vent. We are not looking for huge plumes of smoke; rather just a gentle flow of blue smoke as seen below. For the next two hours, monitor your fire every twenty minutes or so, making sure that there is enough wood to produce smoke and enough lit coal to keep it burning. You will likely have to add a coal or two once or twice. Just place them next to the already lit coals. You can rotate the wood to put a not yet burned surface on the coals, until it no longer produces smoke, and then add another chunk of wood.
If things go right, your cooking chamber temperature will remain under 85 degrees. But if you are having trouble with that, don’t despair; you can always “MacGyver” the heat down by one of a few methods. You can open the lid every once in a while to release heat. You can reduce the amount of charcoal used, or if your wood is flaming, you can squirt it with water to cool it down. You can also close the top vents a little more to cool the fire. Lastly, you can put some ice and a little water in a bowl and place it next to the cheese. In most cases, and if you are smoking during cool enough temperatures, you will not have a problem keeping your temperature below 85 F, though.
After two hours, place your cheese on the counter to rest. I usually wrap it in paper towels, because it will “sweat” a little.. After the one hour rest, pack the cheese away in a well sealed plastic bag or food saver bag, and date it for two weeks later. Trust me when I tell you that you do not want to sample the cheese right after it comes off the smoker; it will taste acrid. Let it rest for two weeks before eating it.
If you want smoked cheese that you can eat immediately, you can cold smoke some of it for a half hour only. But the two hour smoked, two week rested cheese is better and is worth the wait!