OK, you can call me crazy but I’m serious. And I don’t know the answer. I’m just hoping one of you will. (If anyone is doing it successfuly, I will certainly try it.)
This all began with a thread I followed in the Cheese Forum. “Stinky” in California points out that in Gianaclis Caldwell’s book, “Mastering Artisan Cheese Making” she refers to the practice of rubbing clay into Romano. I was fascinated by the possibilities of using clay for more than this because I know how hard it can be to keep the mold off a natural rind. Waxing can be, well, scary, and vacuum sealing is controversial. Gianaclis’s exact words are, “Traditionally Romano was rubbed with dark clay mixed with oil.” (p. 293, Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking).
In the Cheese Forum, this quote led to a potter explaining what kind of clay he would use. “Kern” in King County, Washington writes, “I’d go with the red clay since the colorant here is red iron oxide AKA rust. Be sure to get dry clay, not red clay in moist bricks. This clay is finer than 300 mesh so about the only preparation you’ll have to do is sterilize it. To do this put in in a swallow layer in a baking pan and bake it in an over set at around 250F. This will also drive off the free moisture. Stir it several times during the hour or so it’s in the oven. Let it cool and then put it in a clean jar and it is ready to use. Make a thick paste by using a high clay/oil mixture as this will mix to wet out the clay. Then add oil to the consistency you want. Eating a little bit of the clay with the cheese is perfectly safe.” For further discussion about the (controversial) safety of this, click here.
After I read that, I realized that there are lots of edible clays on the market (Google “edible clays”). (Note: I definitely recommend using edible clays!)
In a nutshell, here’s how I imagine it working- you mix the powdered clay with oil and pack it around your cheese. Or, you mix the sterilized clay with distilled water and pack it around your oiled cheese. Hopefully, the clay imparts a delightfully earthy flavor to the cheese.
I had met Gianaclis years ago at an American Cheese Society Conference, so I e-mailed her to see what she thought. She did have some experience:
“The only “food grade” clay I have found is bentonite that is intended for wine makers. I tried it (and realized it is what they probably make kitty litter out of…) and it was kind of weird. I didn’t experiment for long, though. The clay will never dry completely if the humidity is high and also because of the moisture in the cheese, so not sure if your vision of how it would go would work, but it is worth a try. Please let me know. The best stuff comes from crazy ideas!”
Indeed, it does! I would love to hear what you think about this in the comments below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.