Updated: Apr 21, 2020
“The Tomme I bought had severe mould growth. Is it safe for consumption?”
The first thing one must understand is that microorganisms like mould are what makes cheese. In a lot of ways, cheese is mould. With the notable exception of fresh cheeses that are to be consumed shortly after they are prepared (mozzarella, ricotta, feta, etc.), most cheeses owe their distinct deliciousness and texture to the microbiological growth that occurs when mould, bacteria, and other microbes feast on the proteins and sugars present in milk, transforming them into a wide range of flavorful compounds.
Image courtesy Kase Chennai
Mould is an integral part of the cheesemaking process. Almost none of it harmful, but it could negatively impact the flavour and texture of the cheese it’s growing on or at the very least make it taste different from how it is supposed to. Most of the time, if you see some mould, you can just cut it off — about an inch around and below the mould spot. How much you have to cut off has to do with what kind of cheese you’re working. Like mushrooms and other fungi, mould grows roots kind of like a houseplant — building on the exterior might have little tendrils that go down deep. How far those mould roots can penetrate depends on how dry or moist your cheese is.
Image Courtesy Kase Chennai
Microorganisms survive in wet environments and are less active in dry ones, which means that mould roots will barely be able to penetrate the surface of a hard, salty cheese like Brie or long-aged cheddar but will be able to get deeper into a semi-soft cheese-like, mild-cheddar. And as for extremely wet, fresh cheeses like mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheese, Labneh — the mould will most definitely have changed the flavour of the cheese, and probably not in the right way. That will affect the health condition and possibly food poisoning!
In many ways, the job of the cheesemaker is mould maintenance — making sure the right kind of mould is growing in the right place at the right time. The first thing in the morning the cheesemaker does is to check on the cheese and see if any mould has grown throughout the night. They would want the cheese to look nice for the customers, and a lot of people are disgusted around shape. Please do understand that these will enhance and help in the process of ripening for the aged cheese. These moulds make them taste bitter and sour as for the accurate indication of an aged cheese.
Image Courtesy Kase Chennai
Except for a few types that are quite rare to find on cheese, such as the dark black-grey mould Aspergillus niger, most shape isn’t going to harm at all. The images which are a part of the cheesemaking process are integral to the flavour and texture of the finished cheese. The mould that keeps growing in your fridge isn’t harmful at all; it has helped you in the process of ageing.