Save those cheese rinds!

One of the most unfortunate problems with meatless cookery — to me anyway — is broth.  Call it stock, broth or whatever, properly prepared broth adds essential flavor to all manner of liquid-based recipes, from soup to sauces to cooked grains.  And for vegetarians and vegans, cooked grains and beans are an essential part of daily dining.  While you can certainly boost flavors of meatless recipes with herbs, spices, salt and pepper, you can’t quite replicate that lovely umami flavor that a meat-based broth/stock provides.

One solution, for vegetarians but not vegans, is cheese rind stock.  Anyone who has made minestrone from scratch using a really traditional Italian recipe probably added a piece of cheese rind to the soup (it was probably from Parmesan-type cheese).  In those recipes, the rind adds a touch of richness to the vegetable-heavy soup, although frequently it’s also made with a meat-based stock anyway.  If it’s good enough, in a small amount, for minestrone, why not for other recipes?

I found a recipe for cheese rind stock in a magazine (Fine Cooking Feb/Mar 2017), which is pretty basic.  Bring 5 quarts of water to boil in a large stock pot.  Add one pound of cheese rinds, and perhaps some herbs such as bay leaves, some black peppercorns and even some vegetable scraps for extra flavor.*  Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and simmer 1 to 1-1/2 hours.  The volume will simmer down to roughly 4 quarts.  Strain the stock and discard the rinds and herbs.  After it cools down, you can freeze it in 2-4 cup containers for future use.

What cheese to use?  The best cheese rinds would be from hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, Manchego or other drier cheeses.  Where to get them?  Well you can save your own as you use up cheese. Freeze leftover rinds in a plastic bag until you have the right amount.  The magazine article suggests that some cheese counters at grocery stores or speciality shops might actually sell bags of cheese rinds for this purpose.  Or if you don’t see them for sale, ask the sales person if they are available behind the counter.

What can you do with your lovely cheese stock?  Cooking grains for a hot dish comes to mind.  Risotto is a great use.  The dish will be much more flavorful than making it with plain water.  Use it when cooking barley or brown rice for a casserole.  Prepare quick-cooking lentils with cheese stock to add a depth of flavor.  Vegetarian soups would be another wonderful use.  Make vegetarian minestrone using onions, garlic, tomatoes, greens, garbanzo and/or kidney beans, green beans and even broccoli.  Garnish with grated Parmesan.   Or use as the base for a pureed soup such as potato or creamy tomato or winter squash.  Or the base for a really nice mushroom soup.

One thing to keep in mind: your cheese stock might be a bit salty, depending on what cheeses you use.  This might affect how much salt you add to a recipe that uses the stock, so taste before salting.

Here are some more resources for making cheese rind stock:

Find Cooking

Epicurious

Bon Appétit

Food52

*Mushrooms would add deeper flavor.  Celery tops, unused bits of carrots, tomatoes and onion are also good options.  Don’t add garlic unless you intend to use the stock for a recipe that benefits from garlic.

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