Over a year ago I came up with a wacky contraption that leveraged the smoke generated by my Traeger pellet grill to cold smoke cheese, bacon, etc. Since that time I spent a fair bit of time and discussion with good friends about ways to better dissipate the heat generated by the smoker, and thus not have to fight with and monitor the ambient inlet temperature so much. My brother-in-law gets the award for suggesting a radical alternative to my challenge – rather than having to invent a way to remove heat from the inbound air from the smoker, why not change the equation altogether and not generate nearly as much heat in the first place? Crazy idea, right? Well, it was frankly brilliant. So now instead of generating smoke using a ridiculously expensive smoke generator, now I am using an ultra-low cost alternative. A pellet smoker tube is all I need in my ultra-fancy smoking chamber (yes, that super cheap Igloo cooler from Walmart). I got it on Amazon for under $15 at the time if I remember correctly. The cheese went on a wire cooling rack mounted over the top of about 5 lbs of ice, just to make sure the ambient temperature in the chamber stayed below 90F. I used my torch to light the pellets (much faster than using fire starters, like Tumbleweeds, which I have really liked).
I was planning to smoke cheese for friends and family for the Holidays, so I did a little experimentation along the way with how much time the hunks of cheese spent in their smoke bath. I obviously like saving a buck or two, so we we used Tillamook medium cheddar that we got at Costco in the big blocks. I quartered those up, and then we tried a 2-hour bath, a 3-hour bath and a 4-hour bath. There was an obvious difference in coloration. And then it was really difficult waiting a week or so to test the results. We ultimately decided that about 3 hours was the right amount of smoke. I personally love all the smoke flavor I can get. But since not everyone feels the same way about smoky foods, 3 hours was just about perfect. I also through on some Gouda for a good buddy who absolutely loves the smoked Gouda.
Once we had this dialed in, I needed a larger smoking chamber to get all the cheese done. I had a final product color to match against, in case things didn’t go the same in the larger smoking chamber of my Traeger using the Traeger Smoke Shelf. The shelf has been great for both ribs and beef jerky, so I figured cheese ought to work well too. Of course nothing went the same way it had in the cooler. The process took longer as a first difference. Then I was puzzled that bottom layer of the cheese blocks was not taking on smoke at the same rate as the top layer. So I ended up rearranging them all onto one layer. And then I rotated all blocks on about an hourly basis as well. There was still a bit of variation in the final color and thus smokiness. But everything turned out great.
I love my new approach to cold smoking. The only downside might be how soot-covered by Igloo cooler is getting. Unsurprising, but the reality may be that I end up replacing the cooler when it gets nasty. I’m glad for the cool-ish weather we get for a time here in Houston. I’m do another run of bacon soon now, using the same cold-smoking gear. I’ll definitely be sharing the results of that regardless of the outcome…