I know you can buy good smoked cheese in most every supermarket. And I love the typical kinds—cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, mozzarella. But what about other cheeses—would smoke add or subtract?
I’ve experimented with grilling cheeses, putting them directly over the fire—in the protective embrace of a cast iron pan (like provolone for the classic South America asado appetizer, provoleta) and right on the grates, like halloumi, paneer, and queso de freir. For this exploration, I wanted to try wetter, softer cheeses, grilling them indirect, surrounded with wood smoke.
At the cheese counter, I settled on a French feta, a rich goat cheese, and bocconcini. Then I had another thought: Could I infuse smoke flavor into ricotta? Into my basket went a container.
I kept the fire on the cool side in my charcoal grill, around 275°F, and flooded the grill with smoke, tossing on handfuls of hickory chips so that I had a steady stream of smoke coming out the top vent. On went the cheeses (the ricotta in a small ceramic bowl—whatever you use, make sure it’s heatproof, though my bowl barely got warm), as far away from the fire as I could manage. I checked in at 15 minutes and three quarters of the bocconcini had melted down into the grates, though they were still hanging on. I rescued them and took a taste (actually, I ate all of them, misshapen as they were); though they had barely colored, they had taken on a nice light smoke flavor. Perhaps if I kept the grill temp even lower, around 225°F, they might keep their shape—an experiment for another day.
After another 10 minutes, I checked in again. The feta, goat cheese, and ricotta had started to color. Time for a taste test. I stirred the ricotta to incorporate the surface smoking into the rest of the cheese. It had a lovely subtle smoke flavor, as was the case with the feta and goat cheese. It was perfect—it added to but didn’t mask or overwhelm the flavor of the cheese. Just 25 minutes on the grill warmed the feta and goat cheese all the way through; it also transformed the texture of the feta in a way I wouldn’t have expected: It became smooth enough to spread on a cracker. The crumbliness was gone.
So what I want to know from the cheese-loving grillers out there is this: What cheeses have you tried smoking—or straight out grilling—with tasty results?