Vegetable ash has been used in cheese-making for hundreds of years as a method of preservation. The result is a cheese that has a cool gray appearance, like a mottled river stone. The ash-sealing promotes even ripening of the rind by absorbing any excess moisture, and it contributes a very subtle minerality to a cheese’s flavor. But Bone Char Pearl—rolled in animal bone ash—is much more flavorful than its vegetable ash counterpart. And it is North American cheese innovation at its boldest.
The cheese is produced at Seal Cove Farm in Maine, with milk sourced directly from their prize-winning herd of goats and cows. At seven days old, it is shipped to Crown Finish Caves in Brooklyn, where it is coated in the animal bone charcoal and aged for 12 more days. In an effort to use the “whole animal, no waste” approach, chef Dan Barber chars animal bones from stock into charcoal for their restaurant kitchen. It was then he got the idea to grind it down into a fine powder for cheese affinage.
Just as the cheese is daring in its make, it is also daring in its flavor. Bone Char Pearl resembles a classic French crottin, but slightly larger. It is approximately 2.5 inches in diameter and 2.5 inches tall. When brought to room temperature, the slightly damp outer rind smells like must and soil and is mottled with whites, blues and geotrichum candidum. When cut into, the paste is porcelain white in the center and creamy white closer to the rind, which shows evidence of a softening as it ripens. Upon first bite, the bone-ash rind can be overwhelmingly piquante, with notes of flint and tannin. The porcelain paste is smooth and also somewhat tannic, like hazelnuts. Flavors of salt and cured meat, like finnochiana, can be tasted in the creamy white paste.
If the cheese is served slightly cool and not completely at room temperature, dense lemon zest and jasmine notes are more dominant, both in flavor and aroma. It is best paired with full-bodied beers such as Strong Rope Brewery’s Fat Man, Little Stout whose roasted characteristics can cut through the richness of the cheese or a double IPA whose hops complement the cheese’s complexity.
You can purchase Bone Char Pearl at Saxelby Cheesemongers, for $16 each.