This month’s article is brought to you by Joe Macaluso, one of Musco Food’s buyers. Joe may be the most passionate cheese-lover on our team. This month, we tapped him on one of the most interesting and misunderstood topics of specialty foods: mold.
I’ve been in the Gourmet Food Business for half of my life and have worn many hats: retailer, sales rep, buyer. The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered has been the topic of mold, namely convincing consumers & retailers that mold is not evil or dangerous.
Mold, simply put, is often a necessary and integral part of the aging process of many cheeses and deli meats. Many consumers have lost touch with this reality. Products with a uniform appearance, often vacuum-packed, are deemed safe & “controlled”, whereas foods that are rustic, irregular, or slightly moldy may be slightly dangerous, or past their prime. In this blog post I will further my crusade by debunking this myth, especially as the gourmet food industry as a whole is getting back to traditional foods produced by artisanal and natural means.
To better help everyone understand how integral mold is in “our world” let us delve into a few of the common molds & how they play a part in the Cheese & Salami making process.
Let’s begin with the most common and acceptable mold on cheese, which can be seen on Brie, Camembert, St. Andre, Delice de Bourgogne and Explorateur – “Penicillium Candium”. These “Bloomy-Rind” cheeses start off as fresh cheese, then grow fuzzy white mold known by us cheese mavens as “Cat’s Fur”. This tall, fluffy mold is patted down by the Cheese Makers to make it an integral part of the cheese. The cheese is then flipped over, and the process repeats itself. The result of this mold-maintenance process is the savory, mushroom-y white rind that makes this category of cheese uniquely delicious.
Secondly, let’s discuss “Washed Rind” Cheeses, a category that describes any cheese with a brine-washed (or moistened) rind. Our Taleggio and St. Nectaire fall into the “Soft-Ripening, Washed Rind” category, while Gruyere and Comte are of the “Aged, Washed Rind Category”. The brine applied on the cheese’s rind helps the development of a bacteria called “B Linens” (“Brevibacterium Linens”), which is responsible for the orange tinge on these cheeses. “B Linens” can be added to the brine directly or introduced in the milk before the cheesemaking process begins. The bacteria is responsible for the color and noticeable pungent (often funky) aroma and fabulous flavors of washed rind cheese.
Thirdly, there are those with “Wild Rinds” or “Natural Rinds” which are created from whatever nature provides. Whatever is in the air is what grows on the cheese, no inoculation necessary. There are countless beneficial bacteria, which have subtle influences on the cheeses’ textures and flavors. Some of these cheeses are washed before they are sold, such as a Pecorino Toscano, whereas others retain their striking and savory molded exterior, like our Onetik-Ossau-Iraty, Tomme de Savoie, Toma Piemontese or Raschera. Many of these cheeses are aged in ancient caves that harbor these unique bacterial faunas and allow them to flourish. The mold from one producer cave is usually different than another’s, therefore creating a slightly different (signature) flavor profile.
Mold Care 101
Let’s take Pecorino Toscano as an example, as seen above. Pecorino Toscano is covered with mold in its natural state, which is wiped off before shipping – now there’s a cheese that cleans up well! If by chance the mold starts growing on the rind again, it can be simply brushed or wiped off with a cloth. I usually suggest using a dry cloth since mold thrives in a damp environment. I often (depending on how porous the rind) suggest finishing the product off with an olive oil polish for visual effect and further inhibiting any unwanted mold growth.
There are some potentially dangerous molds, such as aspergillus niger, a dark grey, black mold, however, they remain rare. If you see some fluffy mold growing on a hard cheese, simply scrape or cut around, 1 inch deep for safety. The roots of mold cannot penetrate hard cheeses such as parmesan, and can only penetrate a little in softer cheeses such as harvati. Should you see mold on fresh cheese, such as mascarpone or chevre, it is safer to dispose of the product.
What about salumi?
Lastly, let’s discuss cured meats. “Penicillium Nalgiovense” is the standard Salami mold. This fluffy white mold acts as a natural barrier to protect the salami from competing mold or bacteria. The mold also keeps the salumi from drying out too fast, thus slowing the drying process and enabling the development of all kinds of delicious flavors. Salami are often cleaned before packaging to have a uniform and pleasing look, but if ever mold happens to reappear it can easily be removed with a cloth, or by peeling off the casing.
To sum it up
Let’s sum these somewhat technical facts with a few simple reminders:
- mold is a natural, essential ingredient to most cheese and deli meats.
- mold, for the most part, is not dangerous, it can either be wiped off or cut off cheese.
- mold (other than those of Blue cheeses) should be on the rind, not inside cheeses.
- mold on Salami can be removed by wiping or removing the casing prior to eating
Our staff is always at your disposal to discuss any of these issues! Check out our Instagram page, where we’ll be using the hashtags #moldisthenewgold and #letsgrowmoldtogether