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Il Canet: Introducing the Funk with Alta Langa Washed-rind

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Though cheesemongers might hold "stinky or bust" signs while behind the counter, and some turophiles feel unless they open their fridge and a gust of cheese wind rushes out that's so fierce it knocks them over, the dairy object inside doesn't really count as cheese, washed-rinds are not for everyone. In the beginning anyhow. I know because my boyfriend sticks the strong ones I bring to his house in tupperware containers even after I've wrapped them in wax paper, and when tasting a new stinker at the farmers market, can appear as shocked as a child handed a lemon slice to taste for the first time. My mother on the other hand, would douse herself in Limburger if she could.

But I have hope for the non-washed inclined inclined and so should you. If you want to encourage a loved one or yourself to go for the funk, start with delicate, starter washed-rinds like goat and cow's milk Il Canet from Alta Langa in Piemdont, Italy. 

What is a washed-rind cheese?

The beautiful Durrus washed-rind aging, not for the faint of heart, from Cork Ireland.

The beautiful Durrus washed-rind aging, not for the faint of heart, from Cork Ireland.

A washed rind cheese is rubbed down with a brine as it ages. The brine is often a combo of water and salt, and often a splash of booze like whiskey or beer. Il Canet's brine is a combo of water, salt, and annatto (more on A later).

“Washing,” rubbing the rind with brine as the cheese matures, encourages the growth of tasty bacteria like B. linens bacteria. As B. linens break down the cheese’s proteins, they turn the rind orange, the smell funky, and the inside very, very sweet.

Legend has it that a Benediction monk created washed rinds back in the day when he rubbed a monastery cheese he was making with some nearby monastery liquor because he thought it would help heal cracks that formed on the rind. It worked.

Alta Langa’s Il Canet (the cane)

Alta Langa’s Il Canet (the cane)

Il Canet is a subtle washed-rind. Its tangerine color is partially from the salt-water washing, but also because orange-hued annatto powder is added to the brine. From the achiote plant, annatto is the same natural coloring that's used to make some Wisconsin farmhouse cheddars like Roelli's Dunbarton's Red Rock orange. In Il Canet's case, the annatto makes the rind look like a cheeto even though it hasn't been washed as much as the really funky ones. Because fewer B. linens are busy working its rind, the flavor is more gentle, than, say, Époisses.

The result is a wheel that melts on your tongue and tastes like fresh, salted cream drizzled with meyer lemon. With a touch of funk. And its damn cute on a cheese plate. Did I mention Il Canet is made from both goat and cow's milk cheese in Piedmont Italy? Mmmmm..... A perfect starter for soon-to-be stinky cheese lovers. If you want it funkier, keep it longer :)

Other gentle washed-rinds to try are Mouco, Red Hawk and Willoughby (when young), and Quadrello-di-Bufala

Il Canet Wine Pairing:

Alsatian Rieslings, dry Gewurztraminers, Muscadets (Melon de Bourgogne not Muscat) from the Loire, Fiano de Avellinos, or non-citrusy, steely whites!