Cold Smoking

Home Smoked Cheese

As far as I’m concerned, everything tastes better smoked.  Meat, fish, cheese, chillies, salt (weird but true), shoes, car, cat, smoke it all I say.  From a handful of woodchips chucked on the barbecue, to a tea smoked chicken breast, I’ve always loved finding ways of adding smokey flavours to food.  But this only covers cooked or ‘hot smoked’ food.  What about reproducing the delicate flavours of smoked trout, or smoked cheese?  These foods are produced through ‘cold smoking’, whereby smoke is produced away from the food and funnelled through so the temperature of the food remains low (usually less than 30 degrees C).  As it sounds, this usually requires complicated and expensive equipment, but not always…

The fantastic Mac’s BBQ in Cornwall has created a way of smoking food at home using a relative cheap and simple system that can be used again and again.  Their ProQ Cold Smoke Generator is simply filled with fine sawdust, lit with a candle, then placed underneath the food in a kettle barbecue or any closed container with vent holes (even a cardboard box!).  It produces a delicate smoke for around 10 hours, enough time to cold smoke anything you like.

ProQ Cold Smoke Generator

Unfortunately, cold smoking food is usually more complicated than just keeping temperatures low.  Meats and fish need curing for several days in dry salt/sugar mix before smoking, and apparently there is such a thing as ‘too much smoke’ (pah!). Having said this, the process is made much simpler by this little gadget and Mac’s give guides to smoking salmon which is relatively simple.  But the food that is probably the easiest and most rewarding to cold smoke is cheese. Cut them into long blocks, pop them on a grill above the ProQ, leave them overnight – voila.  The cheese still needs a few days for the flavours to develop fully, but my word it’s worth it…

Cold Smoking Cheese

The three smoked blocks in the pictures are Cheddar, goats cheese and a block of polenta.  The cheddar was beautiful, the flavour improving more and more over time.  Most modern supermarket smoked cheeses (e.g. ‘Applewood smoked’) have smoke flavour added rather than actual smoke – a real smoked cheese tasts infinitely better. The goats cheese was also incredible, remaining creamy and light but with a rich depth to the flavour.

The polenta, masquerading as cheese, was thrown out once I realised it tasted awful.  Just horrid. I think it is probably something to do with the lack of fat or protein, so it just got the aroma of a smokey old car.  It would be worth a second attempt, but the actual polenta mix would need a fair amount of cheese added.  Or alternatively, skip out the middle man, and just stir your smoked cheese into the polenta in the first place.

So grab yourself a cold smoker, and get smoking.  It can be quite economical – you’re only limited by the amount of food you can fit inside your barbecue/cardboard box. It’s best to do it outside of the height of summer, as you don’t want the inside of the smoking vessel to go above 30 degrees C. On second thoughts, the height of a British summer is probably the ideal time, assuming you can get the fire lit…