Ash is carbon, made from charred vegetable matter used for protection of cheese. Often used in goat cheeses.
Ash, or activated charcoal, is the edible charcoal used in some soft cheeses to neutralize the surface of the cheese, creating a favorable growth environment for e.g. Penicillium candidum and other ripening molds while inhibiting unwanted mold growth. It can also be used for a typical visual purpose to achieve a gray rind on cheese, or for example by layering it in the curd.
Centuries back this was ash from the burning of the grape vine clippings in the Loire Valley of France which was even then noted for their wealth of fresh goat cheese. Though the grape vines from the Loire seem indeed best suited for making ash, nowadays activated charcoal is mixed with salt.
Molds such as penicillium candidum grow best at lower acid levels than typical fresh cheese, including most goat cheeses. Adding ash neutralizes the surface acid, creating a sweeter surface, especially for high acid lactic cheese. This helps the mold surface develop quickly and more complete. It also increases the rate of surface protein, responsible for a nice translucent area under the rind.
Adding ash to (goat) cheese
The black powder is used in cheese preparation for various reasons. First of all, it has a protective function. The gray layer that you sometimes see in the middle of a cheese was once intended to protect the curd in a half-filled vat against flies. This vat was then filled with a fresh amount of curd and that way you could see that gray layer in the final cheese. Morbier is a well-known example of this. Originally, the ash on the outside of those beautiful French cheeses has a similar protective function. Ash can also be used to influence maturation. Ash is alkaline and thus increases the pH of the outside, allowing the fungus to grow better. It is mainly soft goat’s cheeses that are curdled by use of pH and that is why you find this ash ripening more often in goat’s cheeses.
- The ash should be mixed with the salt before being applied to the cheese rind. As a result, the cheese tends to have a bluish-gray, mottled rind with a nutty texture and a strong creamy flavor.
- Mix the ash with the salt before applying (about 5 g per 1 kg of salt). In a few days, the black rind will turn gray when the white mold grows. After 8-10 days, the entire rind should be white.
- If the mold is blue instead of white, the cheese is too sour; gray and hairy – the cheese is not acidic enough, retaining too much moisture.
- Activated charcoal (foodgrade)
- 20 grams
- Store in a cool, dry location. It has a formal shelf life of around 2 years, but in practice will last forever.