Does the rind have to be considered part of the food or not? This question has been dividing the operators of the industry and the consumers’ behaviour for a while.
According to some traditional eating approaches, like our grandparents had, also the cheese rind was considered edible and was used to cook or to flavour a hot polenta.
Currently, at least in relation to the present features of the dairy sector, the role of the rind is compared to a container: the border between the product and the environment, a kind of organic, natural and traditional packaging.
At this point, the question is “Who eats the packaging of food?”. Typically, no one!
During all the production stages, until the end of ripening in the maturing room, the rind gets in contact with the environment and may get dirty and/or contaminated. The changes and expansion of markets have inevitably changed times and methods to transport foodstuff. The risk of getting in contact with undesired agents has deeply changed along the route from the cheese factory to the consumer’s table. Hence the reason why removing the rind before eating the cheese is a good prevention practice aimed at safeguarding health.
That stated above is also, and especially true, for cheeses such as Gorgonzola, because its rind’s micro-flora is important for the ripening of the product. In the case of Gorgonzola, the rind participates in the ripening processes, however, at the end of ripening, the rind will still be in contact with the environment for the rest of its commercial life, which could cause numerous microbiological and other dangers. It is obviously better to keep the rind clean, as for any other container, it is however non necessary and/or possible to ensure the compliance with the strict criteria that are applied to the edible part of the cheese.
According to this principle, with a decision published on 6.5.2008 (2008/C 111/17) on the Official Journal of the European Union, seven years ago the request to amend the Product Specification – or more specifically, the request by the Gorgonzola Consortia to oblige producers to report on the label that the cheese rind is not edible – was approved.
This was all but unimportant. In fact, it represented the completion of a long dialog started years ago by the Consortium with the Italian Health Ministry.
Initially, the proposal had been perceived suspiciously, as being a shortcut, but afterwards, upon detailed explanations backed up by lab tests, all the scientific and practical reasons have been understood.
This initiative by the Consortium was based upon production evidences. Test evidences showed that, even if occasionally, considering the de-acified characteristics of the rind of this cheese, there could be the risk of undesired microorganisms. Producers, being aware of such risk, in addition to implementing several technological procedures aimed at reducing the risk, decided to give the consumer indications on a safe consumption of the product, namely to remove the rind.
It was, and it is an excessive zeal aimed at safeguarding the consumers.
However, when it comes to safety it is better to exaggerate. The information provided to consumers is one of the keys of the “safety system of the food chain”.