The crazy food preservation day: How to cold smoke cheese (and almonds)

I nearly worked myself into a frenzy after last night’s post thinking about all the things I need to get done before I leave for an out-of-state conference in just over a week.  There’s so much to do!  But I am happy to say that after a full day in the kitchen, I managed to knock out a lot of the food preservation that needed to happen this weekend.  I smoked a ton of cheese (and almonds!), and shot the video (see below).  I also dealt with all those pears and made some pear preserves.  Sadly, some of the pears were beginning to rot.  The good news in all that, though, is 1) I was actually relieved I didn’t have to deal with the entire lot of pears and 2) the chickens benefited tremendously from eating those rotting pears–they were some happy girls!  I also made some pizza dough (for tomorrow night’s dinner) and garlic scape pesto–to be used on the pizza dough that is tomorrow night’s dinner.  Granted, my feet and legs were achy by the end of the day, and I was so tired that I only ate popcorn for dinner, but it was a very good, productive day at the urban farmstead!

Now, about the cheese and almonds…

If you’ve never smoked your own cheese and almonds, my friends, it is high time you consider doing it.  It’s so easy!

Smoking cheese is done via a cold smoking process, which means you do not add any heat while the cheese is exposed to the smoke, unlike smoking meats which is usually done over heat so that the meat cooks while it smokes.  There are a variety of ways to cold smoke, but I use a 12″ tube smoker that holds wood pellets, and I simply set it on the rack in my BBQ grill.  You can see in the video how easy it is to set up your grill as a smoker.  One thing you have to keep in mind while smoking cheese: outside air temperature–if it is warm, say 80 or 90 degrees F, your cheese will melt.  Smoking cheese is best done on a cool day (40 – 60 degrees is optimal).  Even if it is not hot enough outside to melt your cheese, if it is too warm, all the oils will sweat out of the cheese and pool on the surface of your cheese blocks, similar to how the oil pools on top of your pizza cheese.  This is no bueno.  So only smoke your cheese on a nice, cool day, preferably out of direct sunlight, too (the added heat from the sunlight could cause your cheese to sweat and/or melt).

Smoking cheese takes some time, so allow 4-5 hours for the process.  I typically smoke my cheese for 3-4 hours, and I flip my cheese over halfway through so that the smoke coloration and flavor is evenly distributed on my cheese blocks.  I have been using apple wood as my smoke flavor, but there are lots of options out there: cherry, mesquite, hickory, oak, alder, pecan…the list goes on.  Here are a couple of references that can inform you on which wood you choose: a chart and a blog.

Once your cheese has been smoked, it needs to cure for a few weeks in order to temper the smoked flavor and also to allow it time to work its way deep into the cheese.  In order to do this, and to keep your cheese from spoiling, you’ll need to vacuum pack your cheese.  The vacuum sealer is just one other tool that I use heavily in my food preservation regimen, so if you don’t have one, it’s something to consider.  I only recently–within the last year or two–added a vacuum sealer to my fleet of kitchen tools.  But I love it and I use it regularly.  And if you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, they aren’t all that expensive, either.

Smoking almonds isn’t quite the process as cheese, because you don’t have to let them cure afterwards–you can pop them right into your mouth once they cool!  Almonds don’t have to be cold smoked, but I do it this way because it makes sense to me to use the smoke as efficiently as possible, and I have the space on my grill to do it.  Before smoking almonds, you will want to soak them for a few minutes in a fairly strong brine solution.  Today I used 3 cups almonds in 3 cups water with 3 teaspoons of salt.  Let the almonds soak for 10 or 15 minutes, then drain the brine and spread the almonds on a baking sheet.  After cold smoking, you will need to put the almonds in a low oven to dry out completely because they will still be damp after smoking (this will make your house smell like smoke a little bit).  In the video I used 250 degrees F, but that wasn’t quite hot enough.  In the past I have used 325 degrees F and that was perfect (I just forgot that today).  Stick the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes, then stir the almonds around.  You might hear the skins cracking and popping a bit–it sounds like Rice Krispies once you’ve added the milk–and put them back in the oven for another 10 minutes.  Then remove the almonds from the oven and allow them to cool completely on the baking sheet.  They will continue to crackle and pop while they dry and that is exactly what you want to hear!  Once they are completely cooled you can pop them in your mouth.  To store, put them in an airtight container and keep them at room temperature.  If it is going to be a while before you eat the almonds, you can vacuum seal them to keep them from going stale.

For all the gnarly details on smoking cheese (and almonds!), check out this video:

 

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