Today we are going MacGyver! I (Chris from Nibble Me This) am going to show you how to cold smoke your own cheese by using just a cardboard box, a soldering iron, a tin can, and a few miscellaneous items. This is a fun project that you can use to involve the non-foodies in your house.
You can turn this.....
Into this..... (I think this is the first officially licensed OKK product)
But first, the Legal Department here at OKK "asked" (okay....they locked me in a dungeon and force fed me Brussels sprouts until I agreed) to post the following Safety Notice:
For this project you will need:
- A medium sized box slightly narrower than the racks you will use
- 1 unused soldering iron without the tip ($14)
- 1 tin can (burn out the inside with a torch or grill if it has a bpa lining)
- a rack or two of some sort. I used two resting racks that were slightly larger than the box. You could use the rack out of your toaster oven.
- Several blocks of various cheeses
- 1 cup of hardwood or fruit wood chips (you can buy these at many grocery stores and hardware stores these days by their grilling/coal section)
I was using two resting racks so I measured down three inches and 6 inches from the top on the side. I cut slits at both marks on both sides. Work one end of your rack(s) through the slit on one side and then back through the other side like this so the slits are supporting the rack. The rack should stick out a little on each side.
Drill several 1/8" holes on one side of the can (which will become the "top" side of the can) and a hole in the base of the tin can large enough to accommodate the base of the soldering iron like this:
Add the wood chips around the soldering iron like this. TIP: Use the smallest chips in the bag, you want to maximize surface contact with the iron.
Cut your cheeses into 1" x 1" rectangles (however long the length is doesn't matter) and place them on the racks with room between the pieces.
Place the smoke generator on a trivet or other heat resistant, non-conductive surface in the bottom of the smoke box.
Plug in the soldering iron and wait for the first wisps of smoke (3-5 minutes).....
Then close the box and tape it shut. You might be tempted to try to seal all the seams of the box for an air tight fit. DON'T. You want the little air gaps and a slight airflow. If you have an airtight fit, the wood won't be able to smolder and the cheese would sit in stale smoke for an hour. You will have smoke escaping the box like this:
This generator should give you 90 minutes of smoke time, perfect for cheeses. After the 90 minutes, remove the cheeses. They won't look too different and they may or may not smell very smoky (Your smoke smeller will probably be overloaded at this point). Don't bother tasting or smelling a piece at this point. IT HAS TO AGE AND MELLOW!!!!!
Vacuum seal the cheeses and refrigerate for two weeks. If you don't have access to a vacuum seal, double wrap them in plastic wrap and then seal them in a zip top back. This is partially to help them mellow but mostly to keep your fridge from smelling like smoke!
Here are some quick tips I can think of
- Bacteria spoils cheese. Make sure your hands, cutting boards, and knives are all sanitized during every step of this process.
- Cold smoke. The inside of the container has to remain below the melting point of your cheeses (roughly 70-80f). The smoke generator will raise the temp of your box by 10-15 degrees (the smaller the box, the greater the temp increase). So do this in the shade on a day when the air temps are 45f or less. Don't you just love the high tech digital control panel of the OKK Smokerator 3000?
- Packaging - If packing the cheese for gift packs, pick cheeses that alternate in color and can be cut into roughly the same size pieces.
- Experiment with a variety of cheeses - my favorites have been gouda, cheddars, pepper jack, and monterey jack. It occurs to me that I've never smoked a blue cheese....and can't imagine doing so but whatever floats your boat.
- Experiment with a variety of woods - my favorites have been hickory, cherry, and a mix of the two.
- Soft cheeses take on smoke more readily, hard cheeses take longer.
- Use as natural of a cheese that you can. Cheeses with a lot of flavorings and preservatives don't seem to fare as well.
- Use the best quality cheese that you can.
- Smoked cheeses are great simply with crackers. But when used as an ingredient with sauces, sandwiches, soups and casseroles, it adds a nice subtle layer of flavor.
- Once you have smoked your own cheese, you probably won't enjoy "smoked" cheese bought at a store because a lot of them just use "smoke flavorings".
- Once you have tried smoking cheese, try smoking nuts, salts, and peppers.
On that note, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May your stockings be full of high quality, natural hardwood lump charcoal.....