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Why Are Cheeses Made with Ash?

Why Are Cheeses Made with Ash?

Ash is the result of burning plant matter such as wood, leaves, vegetables, etc., at an extremely high temperature. “What’s leftover is the stuff that doesn’t burn away,” says Windsor, “mostly the mineral content of it, which is predominantly carbon,” and whatever else the carbon is holding onto. Ash can go by a number of different names — vegetable ash, charcoal, carbon — which are all relatively the same thing. Activated charcoal, or activated carbon, is also related, but with an additional step: “activated charcoal involves an oxygen flush to knock away everything else that carbon that carbon might hold onto,” says Windsor, leaving just carbon and oxygen, and is typically not used in cheesemaking.

While the ash that was used in cheesemaking of yore may have been collected from the hearth of one’s kitchen, modern, commercial ash is a much more controlled product. “We use ash purchased from a cheese supply company,” says Windsor, “and we do what’s called liquid ashing, which is actually an ash that is held in a solution. Other cheesemakers may use a dry ash, but for our facility we have a lot of air movement, so using a fine ash powder is not great.” Vegetable ash is flavorless, and neither contributes a discernible texture unto itself, other than the texture it helps to encourage in certain cheeses.

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