8 best woods for smoking cheese & quick mild smoked cheddar recipe

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  August 18, 2021

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Once you’ve mastered smoking meat, it’s time to experiment with cheese because it’s one of the most delicious smoked foods you’ll ever try.

No, smoked cheese isn’t just the type of food to try during the Holidays; it’s actually a year-round smoked delicacy that you don’t want to miss out on!

Best wood for smoked cheese

Different types of wood complement specific kinds of cheese. Mild fruit and nut woods are best for semi-soft cheeses, while stronger flavored hardwoods are best to smoke hard cheeses. The best woods for smoking cheese are hickory, apple, cherry, pecan, and water oak, but the perfect pair for cheese is lilac.

Smoked cheese is an excellent alternative to the unsmoked variety because it still has the same flavor profile, but the wood smoke also enhances it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the taste of smoke cheese, let me tell you it’s a bit nutty but so delightful!

One thing to keep in mind though is that after you smoke cheese, you can’t eat it right away. It has to rest in the fridge for about two weeks.

Smoking cheese: does wood matter?

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Indeed, the wood matters when it comes to smoking cheese. The wood that you use for smoking ends up affecting the flavor of the cheese.

If you use wood such as mesquite, it can completely overpower the cheese’s flavor and even make it bitter. Therefore, you need to use smoke woods (like in this chart) that complement the natural flavors of cheese.

If you want to keep it simple, try to use locally sourced fruitwoods and nut woods. These are relatively easy to find and decently priced.

Before you start smoking, it’s best to look into what types of wood are suitable for smoking cheese and their burning quality.

Which cheese can you smoke?

I think most people think of something like cheddar or gouda when it comes to smoked cheese. But, you’ll be surprised at the sheer variety of cheeses you can smoke.

The best cheeses to smoke are those of the semi-hard and hard varieties because they take well to smoke and keep their shape.

Soft cheese can actually melt and fall between the grates, plus it ends up over-flavored and losing its natural cheesy taste.

Here’s a list of the best cheese to smoke:

Also read: Best Cedar Grilling Planks Recipes: Classic salmon & even cheese!

Best wood for smoking cheese

When it comes to choosing wood to smoke cheese, it’s quite a hard task.

There’s not a lot of information about which specific wood smoke is best, but I recommend mild fruit woods like apple and cherry for milder cheese or the classic bacon-flavored stronger woods like hickory or oak for strong-flavored cheese.

Delicate cheese must be paired with a light, mild smoking wood that doesn’t overpower the cheese’s flavor.

It’s best to use strong woods to smoke hard cheese because these cheese varieties are very dense, so they don’t pick up as much wood smoke flavor as semi-soft cheeses. Therefore, it’s okay to use hickory, oak, and pecan.

Wood for smoking should be seasoned and cut into chunks or chips so it can fit in your smoker.

Applewood

Apple is the top fruitwood pick when it comes to smoking cheese. For the same reasons applewood works great for smoking poultry, it works well for all cheese varieties.

If you use it to smoke semi-soft cheese, it imparts a sweet, fruity, and mild flavor.

If you smoke hard cheeses, it imparts a very light flavor that’s is a subtle hint of fruitiness which is definitely not overpowering.

You can also use crabapple tree wood too; it is almost identical to applewood.

Check out Weber apple wood chunks on Amazon

Cherry wood

Similar to applewood, cherry is fruity yet sweeter than apple. It is mild and doesn’t overwhelm the cheese. It’s also a light smoke wood that blends well with something stronger like oak.

Just a heads up, cherry smoke gives food a darker color, as it tends to “blacken” food. This does not affect food and is still a great wood for smoking cheese.

Check out cherry wood chunks from Weber on Amazon

Lilac

Lilac smoke wood is pretty hard to get your hands on, but it is a premium wood and most commonly used to smoke cheese.

It has a very subtle and mild smoke flavor that’s slightly sweet and floral. The tart and often pungent flavor of cheese pairs well with this floral and aromatic smoke.

But, you should note that lilac smoke is extremely light, so you’ll need to use semi-soft cheese.

Hickory

Hickory is a strong flavored smoking wood, and it’s best for smoking strong cheeses like cheddar. Hickory smoke infuses the cheese with a bacon-like flavor.

It’s probably the most common smoking wood for beef, pork, ribs, etc., but it gives a fantastic flavor to hard cheeses too.

Check out hickory wood chips on Amazon

Did you know hickory also turns out to be the best wood for smoking elk?

Pecan

Pecan is similar to hickory but has a lighter smoke flavor, and it’s a milder smoke wood. It also infuses the cheese with a bacon-like flavor, but it’s more subtle than hickory.

The pecan smoke infuses your cheese with a nutty flavor, too, but it’s not an overpowering aroma.

Oak

This hardwood is similar to hickory in many ways. Oak is frequently used to smoke bigger and flavorful cuts of meat like beef and lamb.

It’s suitable for smoking strong cheeses because it doesn’t overpower the cheese. After all, oak leaves no aftertaste.

Make sure you only use oak when you smoke hard cheeses like manchego or parmesan.

Sugar maple

If you want to add a hint of sweetness to any cheese, sugar maple is an excellent option.

When you smoke a cheese like cheddar or gouda, maple adds a sweet smokiness that really brings out the cheese’s natural flavors and aromas.

Regular maple is excellent too, and you can use it to plank smoke cheese too.

Alder

Alder is not as popular as other woods for smoking cheese.

But, if you’re experimenting and want a mild flavor, alder is an affordable yet excellent smoke wood. It has a slight musky aroma with a hint of sweetness.

Mix and match

It’s possible to mix and match smoke woods to create your own ‘custom’ smoke wood flavor that complements cheese.

For example, a common combination is applewood and hickory or applewood and oak. The mix of strong and mild woods gives cheese that perfect amount of smokiness.

Other fruitwoods you can use for smoking cheese

If you can’t find apple or cherry, you can always use apricot, pear, plum, peach, nectarine, or mulberry. These all have a light, fruity, and sweet smoke flavor.

What woods NOT to use when smoking cheese

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should never use softwoods for smoking any food.

Conifers like pine, fir, redwood, spruce, cypress, and cedar are not suitable for smoking meat, veggies, or cheese.

The reason is that these trees are toxic when used for smoking because they contain high levels of sap and terpenes. These not only give food a horrible taste, but they can make people ill.

Also, avoid eucalyptus, elm, sycamore, and liquid amber as these are not suitable for smoking due to their bad taste.

Now, I don’t recommend using mesquite when it comes to smoking cheese, especially if you are just starting out. It has a strong flavor and also generates intense heat.

It gives the cheese a very earthy flavor, so it’s not best for semi-soft cheeses or any cheese with delicate flavors.

Also read: How do you store wood for smoking? Guide to proper wood storage

How long do you need to smoke cheese?

Smoking cheese takes about 2-4 hours, depending on the cheese type. It’s important to maintain light smoke but it must keep coming constantly.

When you smoke cheese, you use cold-smoking of course, so you can alter the time a bit.

Take into consideration the quantity of cheese you smoke. The more cheese, the longer you need to smoke. You can extend the time to 5 hours.

If you like a very strong and smoky flavored cheese, then smoke it for a longer time. The longer you smoke, the smokier and more intense the flavor.

Easy smoked mild cheddar recipe

Joost Nusselder
I’m using applewood for this recipe because it is a mild smoking wood, and the cheddar is also a mild cheese that doesn’t need intense smoke flavors. When smoking cheese, you’re using a technique called “cold smoking.” You can’t smoke cheese at high temperatures because it melts, so cold smoking is the way to infuse it with smoke wood flavor slowly.
No ratings yet
Cook Time 2 hrs
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Servings 8

Equipment

  • Charcoal smoker
  • Applewood
  • Smoke tube
  • Grill thermometer
  • Parchment paper

Ingredients
  

  • 8 lbs of mild cheddar cheese

Instructions
 

  • Take your smoker and set it up for cold smoking. You can use a cold smoke generator if you have one of a tube smoker. Add applewood chunks. You can use chips too because you’re only smoking for a couple of hours.
  • Check the temperature with your grill thermometer. The grill surface temperature cannot exceed 80 degrees F (26 Celcius).
  • Place the block of cheese on the grates. Close the lid and wait 30 minutes.
  • After 30 minutes, turn over each block of cheese.
  • Now continue flipping over each cheese block every 30 minutes until the 2 hours are up.
  • Once ready, wrap each cheese block in parchment paper but don’t wrap too tightly.
  • Place the cheese in the refrigerator for about one day.
  • After a day, take the parchment paper off the cheese and place each block into a sealed ziplock bag. Wait for 10-14 days before consuming the cheese. The longer you let it rest in the fridge, the better the cheese tastes.
Keyword Smoked
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Conclusion

When smoking cheese, I recommend using fruitwoods, nut woods, oak, hickory, and maple. Any other type of wood can really alter the cheese’s flavor for the worse.

Therefore, I recommend you stick to mild flavored woods for semi-soft and firm cheeses and hardwood for hard and semi-hard cheeses.

Now, you can start smoking those cheese blocks and impress guests with your cheese smoking skills!

Feel like getting even more cheesy goodness out of your smoker? Try BBQ Smoker Mac and Cheese | 2 Recipes & amazing side dishes!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.