I was drawn to this cheese for the simple reason that it looked a bit like Brie. ‘Ah, this one is rind-washed,’ says the cheese-man behind the counter. ‘Do you know about rind-washing?’
This was my first venture to a proper cheese-shop and I was feeling awkward and amateur. I went to an Ann Summers shop once and felt the same way, gawping at shelves full of ‘what-the-hell-do-you-do-with-that’s?!’ When an assistant asked me what I was looking for, I legged it and went to get a cup of tea. Determined to be braver this time, I admitted my ignorance of rind-washing and fortunately the cheese-man was nice and not at all patronising. (As an aside, I suspect if you started talking about rind-washing in an Ann Summers shop, it probably means something quite filthy…)
I digress. The cheese-man wrapped my little piece of Burwash Rose up and I took it home. Here it is:
I know what you’re thinking. I’m not going to win any prizes for food photography. I tried to prize the Burwash off the paper and poked it a bit to get it to sit up straight. But it wouldn’t, the reason being that it was deliciously ripe and oozy. This was a piece of cheese itching to get on to a biscuit. There’s no worse disappointment cheese-wise than slicing into a Brie or Camembert and seeing that chalky line running through the middle that means you’ve been sold an unripe pup. There was no chance of that with the Burwash Rose.
Made by the Traditional Cheese Dairy in Sussex, Burwash Rose is a semi-soft cheese made from raw cow’s milk and washed in rosewater during the first few weeks of maturation. Hence the rind-washing (or smear-ripening, as it’s otherwise known). These were new terms to me but essentially it means that the young cheese is soaked, sprayed or rubbed down with a liquid – this could be anything from brine, beer, brandy or in this case, rosewater. This discourages certain moulds and bacteria but happens to be the destination of choice for one particular bacteria – brevibacterium linens – which thrives in such conditions. It’s this bacteria that gives rind-washed cheeses their sticky, peachy-orange rinds. And because it’s closely related to the bacteria that you find on your feet, it makes them very stinky.
And the Burwash did indeed stink. A great deal. I can’t pretend it was a pleasant smell. But it tasted divine – rich and creamy and sticky. The rosewater gave it a distinctive taste but not in a Grandma’s-nasty-rose-bath-salts way, more like the musky rose used in Middle Eastern cuisine and perfumes. A little bit of Burwash Rose goes a long way; it’s not the sort of cheese you’d wolf a wheel of in one sitting. But that’s no bad thing as it meant there was more for the next night…