Why Goat Milk Cheese?:
If you have seen ash covered cheese already, it may have been a goat's milk cheese because most of them are. Why goat's milk?
The primary reason for this is that these cheeses are most often lactic in nature and therefore they have very soft surfaces and very weak bodies. Certain surface treatments such as rubbing, brushing and oiling as used on firmer natural rind cheeses will not do well with these fragile surfaces. Therefore, a common treatment for these rinds was to develop a natural mold cover. This could be either a natural mixed mold rind or, for more aesthetic presentation, the bloomy white rinds.
Since this style of lactic cheese develops a high level of acid and the white mold is slow to grow with this, the ash or charcoal was added to reduce the acid as will be explained below, thus allowing the mold to grow quicker and more evenly to begin the ripening process. Usually this is done by adding salt to the charcoal or ash and applying this after the cheese is well drained.
In addition, the use of the ash with goat's milk provides a very aesthetic and unique presentation with the snow white milk contrasting with the black lines around the surface or through the center.
What does Ash or Charcoal do?:
- ASH --When wood or any other vegetable matter (mostly cellulose) is burned in open air, all that remains is a fine grey particulate which is largely comprised of an alkaline (high pH) salt. This is a true ash.
- CHARCOAL -- When it is burned with a limited air supply we have charcoal which is mostly carbon along with some of the alkaline salts. In addition, the charcoal structure is a solid with many small pores in its structure. These small pores are capable of absorption or collecting unwanted components such as contaminates from air and water.
- ACTIVATED CHARCOAL -- If the charcoal undergoes special treatment (heat, chemical etc.) it can become Activated Charcoal or Super Charcoal. This will contain much finer micropores and therefore its ability to absorb will be much greater.
When any of these are used on the surface of a cheese with a high acid surface such as a fresh lactic cheese:
- the surface acidity will be neutralized by the alkaline salt.
- The excess moisture and acidity will be lessened by the absorption of the charcoal
In both cases, the cheese surface becomes less acid and this creates a more attractive surface for molds such as P. candidum (the white mold of Camembert) to develop more quickly. This also dries the surface a bit and keeps the rate of mold activity from becoming excessive.
The most effective of these products is the activated charcoal because it does more of the absorption than either charcoal or a simple ash.