Ash (Activated Charcoal)
Ash (activated charcoal) is a food grade charcoal is used on soft cheese to neutralize the surface. It can help create a friendly environment for the growth of penicillium candidum and other ripening molds while inhibiting unwanted mold growth.
Molds such as penicillium candidum grow best at lower acid levels than typical fresh cheese, including most goat cheese. Adding ash neutralizes the surface acid, creating a sweeter surface, especially for high acid lactic cheese. This helps the mold surface develop quickly and more complete. It also increases the rate of surface protein, responsible for a nice translucent area under the rind.
Where do I store Ash? In a dark, cool environment. Refrigeration is not necessary.
What does ash or charcoal do?
Ash - When wood or any other vegetable matter (mostly cellulose) is burned in open air, all that remains is a fine grey particulate which is largely comprised of an alkaline (high pH) salt. This is a true ash.
Charcoal - When it is burned with a limited air supply we have charcoal which is mostly carbon along with some of the alkaline salts. In addition, the charcoal structure is a solid with many small pores in its structure. These small pores are capable of absorption or collecting unwanted components such as contaminants from air and water.
Activated Charcoal - If the charcoal undergoes special treatment (heat, chemical etc.) it can become Activated Charcoal or Super Charcoal. This will contain much finer micropores and therefore its ability to absorb will be much greater.
When any of these are used on the surface of a cheese with a high acid surface such as a fresh lactic cheese:
- The surface acidity will be neutralized by the alkaline salt.
- The excess moisture and acidity will be lessened by the absorption of the charcoal
In both cases, the cheese surface becomes less acid and this creates a more attractive surface for molds such as P. candidum (the white mold of Camembert) to develop more quickly. This also dries the surface a bit and keeps the rate of mold activity from becoming excessive. The most effective of these products is the activated charcoal because it does more of the absorption than either charcoal or a simple ash.
What cheeses are good to coat in ash? How about Colby? Whenever you consider any aspect of the cheese process, you need to know what the functional reason for it is. Sometimes it may be just cosmetic and other times there is an actual reason for doing it. Quite commonly, ash or activated charcoal is used on the surface of a cheese to protect the surface as well as to reduce the acidity of the surface in preparation for any flora that is soon to follow. Usually, it is used for mold ripened cheeses like Camembert.
It would be wasted on a cheese like Colby or any similar cheese.