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When I buy a cheese from a type I don't know, I usually discard the rind, just because I'm not sure it is edible. Is there a way to tell if it is edible, other than researching the cheese type?

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Make someone else eat it. If they don't fall over. It's safe. –  Jay Jan 12 '12 at 20:52

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

So this link and this link suggest that there are 3 kinds of rinds. Summary below:

Bloomy: Appears white, soft, maybe fuzzy. Can also be reddish/brownish. Comes on softer cheeses that have a more custard-like flavor. Formed by a spray of penicillium candidum before aging. Edible, but the flavor changes and may taste ammoniated over time (consume so long as it's palatable)

Washed: Color ranges from pinkish red to orange or brown. Caused by bathing the cheese in some kind of solution, be it a salty brine, beer, brandy, wine or some other alcohol. Contributes to the flavor in some cheeses, and tastes unpleasant in others.

Natural: Formed by letting the cheese age on its own, drying out and growing whatever molds might be present in the cheese or air. Tends to have a concentrated flavor of the cheese, but may not be palatable. Examples: Stilton, Montgomery Cheddar, Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sometimes comes under a cloth cover. Should be edible, minus the cloth.

Additionally, there are two other possibilities

No Rind: There should be no guessing here. You've probably had cheeses with no rind...because they might come in a container. Ricotta, fresh mozzarella, and creme fraiche come to mind.

Wax/Twig/Cloth: Inedible. Should be discarded

My personal takeaway from this quick research is that I should learn to distinguish artificial covers (cloth/wax) from rinds. It seems like those that separate from the cheese will either be an artificial cover or an old rind, both of which are undesirable.

If it's indeed a rind, then I'd taste it, both alone and with the cheese, to determine if it's palatable. For Parmigiano-Reggiano specifically, I've read that it goes well in soup. Perhaps this is because it's unpalatable-y hard, but still contains the concentrated flavor.

TLDR: look for cloth/wax. If none, is it tasty? Does it feel good in the mouth?

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FYI: Parmesan cheese rind has lots of MSG and fat, but because it's so dried out doesn't melt completely when you simmer it in soup. That's why you use the rind. Cheese which has dried out completely also works. –  FuzzyChef Jan 14 '12 at 7:12

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