If you love smoked cheese, but hate the cost, this is the article for you. Smoking a soft, meltable food doesn’t sound like it makes much sense. In fact, it sounds impossible to do on a home smoker, but I assure you it is not and you would be amazed at just how easy it is.
Wondering how to smoke cheese? Read on for a step by step guide and helpful tips and tricks to make your experience a great one! All you need is a dependable smoker, some cooler temperatures, and a few hours of your time!
What You Need
Although there are some alternatives to the steps below, I am going to walk you through what I do for an awesome smoked cheese. Once you are comfortable with the concept, feel free to experiment with various ideas and flavor profiles.
Charcoal Grill or Smoker?
Smokers are designed to provide excellent temperature control and an indirect cooking heat so the flavors of the burning wood can infuse into whatever you’re cooking. Although you can use a charcoal grill for this, I highly recommend using a smoking box attachment as you want little to no heat during this process.
But at traditional offset firebox is an ideal tool for the job.
Some electric smokers may work as well, but you need to ensure that you can keep a temperature right around 100 degrees without losing smoke.
What Cheeses Can I Smoke?
The quality of cheese you get is also important. You truly can smoke just about any block cheese, but you want to be careful about how the cheese is made, as all cheese is NOT equal. Cheaper cheeses may be made with oils and preservatives, so you should reach for the more costly options to get the best results. If you are unsure of how to tell, look for cheeses that still have a rind, or are cut from a larger block from behind the counter.
Cheddar, gouda, brie, swiss, provolone, and mozzarella are all excellent options. You also want to pay particular attention to the hardness of the cheese. Soft cheeses are fine, but do require a bit more attention since they will melt quickly if it gets too hot.
Be sure they are at room temperature before you begin, as a dry skin holds flavor better.
For this guide we smoked a mild cheddar and white cheddar as they are a favorite with the type of wood we used. Our blocks of cheese were approximately 4 x 4 inches to get a smokey skin and soft inside. You can break your cheeses into smaller blocks to infuse the smoke through the whole cheese or larger to keep the flavor more towards the surface. Stronger wood flavors generally do better with larger blocks of cheese.
Remove the Rind.
Because of where I live, mesquite is the go-to smoking wood. Is this the ideal wood for cheese? Not exactly, and let me explain why. Mesquite is a hot burning, earthy and strong-flavored wood. It can be very bitter if not used correctly. Did I use it? Yes, I did, and my smoked cheese turned out wonderful.
However, if you are smoking cheese for the first time, look for apple, hickory, sugar maple, pecan, and oak. Hickory, pecan, and oak all lend a bacon-like flavor to your cheese. Mesquite does too, as long as you don’t over-do it.
Step 1: Consider Temperature
I’m not talking about the temperature of your smoker, rather the temperature outside. Cheese melts, and so you want to keep your smoker at the lowest temperature possible. If located in a sunny area, even on a chilly day, it may raise your temps into a higher range than what is desired.
In my area it’s hot year-round (well, almost), and the smoker is also in a sunny location, so smoking during the day is not a good idea. Instead, we waited until the late evening when air temperatures were below 80 degrees.
This is a great project for a long evening with friends. We set up camp chairs around the smoker, poured some cold drinks, and had some great conversation while we smoked the cheese.
Step 2: Burn Your Wood to Embers
The first thing you want to do is get your wood burning in the firebox and allow it to burn down to smokey embers. You can open the lid of the grill area to help keep heat from building up. Once the wood is embers, be sure to close your vents and the wood box.
Step 3: Keep Your Grill Near or Under 100 Degrees
Watch the inner temperature of your smoker before adding the cheese. Ideally you want it under 100 degrees. Due to the heat of the day and the mesquite wood, our lowest temperatures hovered between 110 and 120 degrees.
This isn’t a problem as long as you take a few precautions, explained below.
Step 4: Place Cheese on Grates Away from the Firebox
No matter the temperature you are recording, you will want to place your cheese on the furthest side away from the firebox and away from any radiating heat. If you feel the heat is a bit much, or your outdoor temperatures are still too warm, you can also place a pan of ice water (heavy on the ice) between the cheese and the firebox. This serves two purposes: it helps block radiating heat and also helps lower the temperature directly around the cheese without blocking smoke.
Step 5: Smoke for One to Two Hours, Flipping Halfway
How long you smoke is entirely up to the flavor profile you are seeking. Strong woods infuse more quickly, and since we were using mesquite with average sized blocks of cheese, we smoked for just under an hour. You may want to smoke longer with larger blocks of cheese or with more mild woods.
Keep an eye on your temperature and cheese through this process and be sure your cheese isn’t softening on the grate. You may see it sweat a little, which you can pat dry. If you feel the cheese is getting too soft but isn’t a true melt, place it on aluminum foil to finish smoking. We had a cheaper cheese that did this once. We were worried it was ruined, but it ended up being an excellent cheese, even though it didn’t keep it’s perfect block shape.
Step 6: Remove and Place on Wax Paper
When done, remove your cheese and place on wax, parchment, or butcher paper. You will want it to cool back to room temperature before wrapping. You also want it to breathe for a bit.
Step 7: Wrap in Wax Paper and Store in Refrigerator
Wrap your cheese loosely and store in the fridge for up to two days. This helps lock in the flavor. If you don’t eat it right away, you can easily store it for future consumption. Before packing for long-term storage, you should let it breathe for a few days more.
Step 8: Vacuum Seal and Freeze
We generally smoke a lot of cheese all at once and then vacuum seal it in freezer bags after it sits for a few days. It stays nice and fresh in the deep freeze this way for up to 8 months. I also find that this concentrates the flavor, and cheese that has been vacuum sealed has a stronger overall taste.
The key to a good smoked cheese is a combination of a good quality cheese, low temperature control for cold smoke, and an aromatic wood. Although these are the basic guidelines to getting started, once you are comfortable with the process you can experiment with various cheeses and woods for flavor combinations.
We’d love to hear your results below, and, as always, please share!