Brick cheese is a Wisconsin-made cheese that might be best known as the preferred cheese for making Detroit-style pizza. The process for making it somewhat resembles the method of making cheddar cheese.
- Made from: Pasteurized cow's milk
- Origin: Wisconsin, USA
- Aging: 14 days to 5 months
What Is Brick Cheese?
In its true form, brick cheese is a pungent cheese, sort of a cross between cheddar and limburger. Its color is ivory to pale yellow, with an orange-hued rind. It's a semi-hard cheese with an open texture, which sometimes features small holes. The younger versions have a sweet, mild, earthy flavor, and they melt and slice well, while the more aged varieties have a nutty, tangy flavor, and pronounced aroma. It may be tough to find outside the Midwest.
How Brick Cheese Is Made
Brick cheese is made by heating raw milk to 162 F, which pasteurizes it, and then cooling it to around 90 F before pumping it into open steel vats. Then, a starter culture of bacteria is added, which starts the process of fermentation, in which the bacteria consume the lactose, or milk sugar, and produce lactic acid, much like what happens with yeast when baking bread.
Next, a substance called rennet is added, which contains an enzyme that triggers the curdling of the milk proteins, separating them from the liquid whey. The curds are cooked for about 40 minutes, which helps to firm the cheese and intensify the acidity. Then it's cut into cubes with wire blades.
After this, the curds go into perforated rectangular molds, which are pressed to squeeze out the whey. Traditionally, the pressing was done with bricks; hence, the name. After pressing overnight, the bricks go into a brine solution where they spend another 12 hours, before being transferred to an aging room, which is kept at around 70 F, where they are washed with a solution of whey and brine containing the bacterium Brevibacterium linens. This process is called smear-ripening, which is what gives the cheese its distinctive aroma.
After about a week, the cheese goes to a cold aging room, where it spends anywhere from one more week, to several months. The longest aged brick cheese is around 5 months, and middle of the road brick cheese is aged around two months. It's considered ready to eat after two weeks. Finally, the cheese is wrapped in foil, both to protect the cheese and to hold in its aroma.
If the recipe you're preparing calls for an authentic brick cheese and you want to substitute something similar, you can go with another smear-ripened cheese such as Limburger, Époisses, Tilsiter, Taleggio, or an aged Muenster. On the other hand, if you're planning to substitute for a supermarket-style brick cheese, you could use Monterey Jack, mozzarella, or a mild Muenster. Cheddar, fontina, and havarti could also work.
Since it slices and melts well, young brick cheese is an excellent cheese to use for making grilled cheese sandwiches, or just sandwiches in general. Brick cheese pairs well with pickles, and is perfect for burgers, polenta, and mac and cheese. It's the preferred cheese for making Detroit-style pizza, so adding it to your homemade pizza, either by itself or combined with mozzarella, will definitely be a good thing.
Brick cheese should be wrapped in wax paper or parchment, or the original foil if that's what it came in, and stored in the cheese drawer of your refrigerator, where it will keep for a few weeks. And while sealing the wrapped cheese in a plastic bag might not be the best thing for the cheese itself, it might be a good thing for everything else in your fridge, since the aroma can permeate whatever is kept in close proximity.
Brick Cheese Recipes
Brick cheese may be well known for its use in Detroit pizza, but try substituting it in any of these recipes.
Types of Brick Cheese
While authentic, cellar-ripened brick cheese can be a potent cheese, not all cheeses that go by the name of brick cheese are actually made the same way. Many supermarket brick cheeses are mild and neutral flavored, sort of like a cross between Monterey Jack and mozzarella. These cheeses lack the distinctive flavors that result from the bacterial cultures, brine solution and smear ripening of true brick cheese. Sometimes they're dipped in a solution containing annatto, which gives the surface of the cheese a peachy-orange color similar to that produced by the Brevibacterium linens bacteria.
Can You Eat the Rind?
Authentic smear-ripened brick cheeses are considered washed-rind cheeses, and their rinds are completely edible.