Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Using Ash On Your Cheese

Cake created by Jennifer Carroll
And in your wedding cake...

When we brought out the cake at Ricki and Jamie's wedding, there were oohs and aahs from folks who know Humboltd Fog cheese.  (It has won every award there is for a surface ripened goat cheese, including Best in Class at the World Championship Cheese Contest in 2010 and first place at the American Cheese Society Competitions in 1998, 2002 and 2005.)

Before the wedding, Ricki ordered several wheels of Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove in California (the makers).  Her oldest daughter, Jen, transformed it into a gorgeous wedding cake.

After the bride and groom cut into the first slice, and most of the rest of us had dug in, there were several guests who didn't seem to know what it was ...

I explained to them that it was goat cheese and I mentioned that it had a layer of ash in the middle.   They were astonished!  Ash?  Ash as in fireplace ash?  Why?!  Hence, this article...

What is ash?

The ash we sell for cheese is made from salt and oak charcoal.  Many other kinds of vegetable ash are used commercially.  Our ash is totally odorless and tasteless and, of course, it is food grade, as in sterile.

Traditionally, the cheeses from France's Loire Valley are known for having ash in their coatings.  Well known examples include Selles sur Cher, Valencay, and Saint Maure.

Of course, many goat cheeses here in the US are ashed, as well.  Steve Tate of the Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina supplied us with pictures of his Sandy Creek, a bloomy rind soft ripened cheese with layers of grape vine ash (below).

His process involves two molds for every cheese, with the two halves drained separately, the line of ash put in the middle and then further draining until the outer coating is added:

Sandy Creek from Goat Lady Dairy

What are the reasons for using ash?


The effect of black ash against a white cheese is simply gorgeous.  If you can imagine the Humboltd Fog below without the line of ash, you can see what a difference it makes. 

Humboltd Fog


It can help to keep the cheese from forming a rind when you don't want it to.  For example, originally, the line of ash through the center of Morbier, a French semi-soft, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese was there for that reason. The cheese makers put leftover curds from making large wheels of Comte into smaller molds at the end of the day.  Then, they sprinkled ash on top to keep the cheese from forming a rind until the next day when they had enough curds to finish filling the molds.

The line of ash through Morbier is more traditional than functional today.


Ash and salt together are highly alkaline.  When ash is sprinkled on top of a cheese, it creates an environment which attracts certain favorable bacteria, like penicillium candidum.  This facilitates the formation of white mold which pushes right through the ash.


Because the ash neutralizes the acidity in the curds, the taste of the cheese changes slightly.  It's hard to describe the difference, but many home cheese makers who have tried it, tell us they will never make their cheese without it again.

How do I use it at home?

Put some ash in a shaker with very small holes or a thin mesh.  (It's fine like confectionery sugar, so it has a tendency to get on everything.)

After brining, wait until your cheese is almost completely dry, but damp enough to hold the ash.

Pour some ash onto a plate and roll your cheese in it.

When there is one side left without ash, shake some ash onto it.

The bacteria you added to your milk will be attracted to the ash and will grow through it.  Because of this, you may find that the ash speeds up the ripening process.

Examples of cheeses with ash: 

(Note:  This is just a random sample to show the variety of ways to use ash.  I am not recommending these cheeses over any others.  There are hundreds of fabulous cheeses with ash and I hope you can try them all!)

From France:
Valencay Frais Cendre  (Photo from Gourmet Food World)
Selles sur Cher  (Photo from Artisinal Premium Cheese)
Coeur du Berry  (Photo from Gourmet Foodstore)
Saint Maure Ash  (Photo from CheeseSupply.Com)
From the United States:
Wabash Cannonball  (Photo from Capriole Goat Cheese)
Sofia  (Photo from Capriole Goat Cheese)
Bonne Bouche  (Photo from Vermont Butter and Cheese)
Beekman 1802 Blaak  (Photo from Beekman Farm)
Alberene Ash  (Photo from Caromont Farm)


Marci said...

I see the bottle of activated charcoal that you show above. Is that what you use? I have it on hand for other reasons.

Jeri said...

Yes, that's what we sell. Try it out!

Dalyn (AKA The Queen of Quite Alot) said...

gorgeous! I have always wanted to try ash! Thanks for yet another great post. I can finally post comments again, for some reason blogger wouldn't let me. :(

Dalyn (AKA The Queen of Quite Alot) said...

Looks amazing and delicious! I have always wanted to try ash. I will next year. Thanks for another great post. I can finally leave comments again. Blogger won't let me most of the time :(

Jeri said...

I hope the problem wasn't at our end. I did miss your upbeat comments for awhile there. Welcome back!

Simona said...

Thanks for the very informative post. I used ash only once and I can't wait to try again. Part of the fun was to see how the mold grew through the ash. Next time, I will remember to take photos.

Dustin Diaz said...

I recently bought this Veggie ash, is there anywhere I can buy Maritime pine ash?

Dustin Diaz said...

Is there anywhere I can buy Maritime pine ash?

Jeri said...

You might get more of a response to your question if you ask it at our Facebook page (link on the left nav bar of our website). Good luck.

louise said...

Ohhhh, ahhhh, now I see!

Anonymous said...

Growing up in Jamaica as a child I ate a little ash from the wood fire whenever I had a craving. Would it be safe for me to eat your charcoal ash? I also ate a form of soil we called marl. It was cream in colour.