Cold-smoking your own cheese is simple and requires minimal equipment, resulting in unique, beautifully flavoured cheeses that you cannot buy in the shops. Cheeses like smoked feta and smoked halloumi make great vegetarian seasonings. Follow this tutorial and have some fun with a smoker this summer!
Smoking is absolutely not a technique that should be reserved for meat.
Consider the meatless options - all kinds of cheeses, that goes without saying, but also garlic, butter, oils, lemons (cocktails!), chillies, spices, even ice cubes. There are more.
A couple of years ago, I bought a ProQ Cold Smoke Generator. Having got a real taste for smoked cheeses and other such flavoured delicacies - that meaty flavour really jazzes up a lot of vegetarian dishes - I wanted to turn my hand to it at home.
For those of you who don't know, a cold-smoker, predictably enough, releases smoke at a low enough temperature (between 20-30c) to infuse delicate things like cheese, butter, vegetables and spices. A hot smoker is for things of a sturdier disposition, that can take the 50-80c temperatures it produces.
I had read a lot of very positive reviews of this particular cold smoker online. Three things greatly appealed - its size, its performance and its price. Costing only about £30, this small device can produce cool, flavourful smoke for up to ten hours, and when placed inside some kind of receptacle (I have used both a lidded barbecue and a box on different occasions) will smoke whatever you can fit inside.
You pour wood dust into the spiral chamber, then set alight to it at one end with a tea light candle. Once it is smoking and the dust is smouldering well, you add it to your smoking container with the ingredients. It's then just a matter of waiting and seeing! I go back intermittently to check that it is definitely still alight, but that is it. The spiral structure forces the dust to burn round and round, leading to a long, cool smoke.
Note - this is not a sponsored post, I just think this is a really great toy! And you get to tell people, "yes, I was smoking my own cheese yesterday..."
One thing I will say about smoking cheese specifically, is that the better the cheese is at the beginning, the better it will be at the end. Smoking definitely does improve a dull cheese, but having tried a few different types of cheese of varying quality, I can unequivocally say that the better the cheese was, the more transcendent the result.
Feta is a great choice. A particularly beautiful piece of barrel-aged feta was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted after it had come out of the smoker. In my opinion, the smoky flavour does not obscure the complex flavours of the cheese, rather it highlights and builds on what is already there. The pure white of the cheese juxtaposes beautifully with the golden flushes of the smoke and the salty tang of the feta strikes a mouthwatering contrast with the meaty infused flavour. It is a taste sensation.
If you are vegetarian, adding a little smoked feta (especially one you crafted yourself) to a dish can be as uplifting to the flavour as the meat-eater’s staple, bacon. Lots of similar flavours going on there. Macaroni and cheese with smoked feta? Yes. A healthy, crunchy salad with this flavour-bomb crumbled over. Hell yes.
Halloumi is also an amazing choice. It's practically meat for vegetarians as it is. Not being a very wet cheese, there was no dripping which can sometimes put out the smouldering wood dust, and it picked up a really lovely colour. And what flavour!
Smoked cheeses are fantastic vegetarian seasoning, really bringing that smoky, meaty flavour that is usually absent. Try these healthy Baked jalapeño poppers with smoked feta, or these Portobello mushroom burgers with smoked halloumi. This Aubergine pie with smoked halloumi (above) is also pretty tasty.
Or your own creation!
How to smoke cheese
- cheese as many pieces as you have space for
- cold-smoking wood dust I used oak
- You have a pretty wide choice of containers to place the smoker in. I have had success with a couple of different small, lidded barbecues, but the plain old cardboard box I used the other day also worked fantastically.
- For the barbecue method, you simply place the smoker where you would put the coals and put the food on the grill - a lid for the barbecue, whether it comes with one or you fashion it yourself, is essential.
- For the box method, I put the smoker on a metal baking tray to avoid any potential risk of fire, then balanced an oven shelf with the food to be smoked on two glass jars. After closing the box, I covered it with a large towel to make sure that no smoke escaped.
- Your box/barbecue needs some venting - just a small hole or gap that a little oxygen can enter from. I felt that, to keep the smoke burning for all those hours, it needed some flow to achieve this.
- There are a wide range of different flavour smoke dusts for you to choose from. I used oak for this, which was great, but any of the smoke flavours and aromas will be great with cheese.
- Smoking will improve a not-so-great cheese, but it will elevate a really great cheese.
- Pat the cheese dry first with paper towels. A drier surface helps the smoke adhere/penetrate better and minimises the risk of moisture dripping from the cheese onto the wood dust and putting it out.
- Go back and check intermittently to make sure that the smoker is still alight. Dripping moisture has extinguished the dust for me a few times.
- Although I have read others insist that you should only smoke cheese for a couple of hours, I don't think this is always true – I left some halloumi smoking for about eight hours and it was fantastic.
- When ready, wrap the cheese in baking paper and leave it to rest, at least overnight, even up to a week for the best flavour. This enables the smoky flavour concentrated on the outside to really penetrate and develop.