Day after day, month after month, I would aimlessly poke through the company kitchen looking for snacks I knew weren’t there. I knew what was behind all the cupboard doors, I knew what was in the fridge, I knew I wouldn’t want anything there. But I’d look anyway, because humans make no sense.
The cupboards had the same nuts, chips, popcorn, and cookies. The fridge had the same yogurt, hummus, and cheeses. Including those gross, little Babybel cheeses. The ones with the laughing cow. My mother told me they’re referred to as “cow head cheese” in Korea. Which means something else here…. I learned that there’s a whole collection of images online of figures and sculptures molded from the red wax coating. In my mind, that coating makes each unit of cheese a miniature cheese wheel. Individual, miniature, hermetically sealed cheese wheels. So you ought to be able to age Babybel cheese the way you do a cheddar or a gouda. Day after day, month after month, I looked at those Babybel cheeses and wondered what an 18-month Babybel cheese would look and taste like. Finally, I decided there was only one way to find out.
Last week marked the 18-month anniversary of the oldest in my collection. I didn’t collect the cheeses with rigorous regularity, but I was satisfied in the end having a somewhat even spectrum of ages. It was time to examine. Opening the freshest of the four samples presented no surprises. The 5-monther was noticeably moist. The 11-monther was wet and felt firmer and denser. It was also noticeably more yellow than its younger brethren. The 18-month sample expressed considerable moisture, felt even more firm, and had a lovely (actually, a nauseous) grey, mottled patina. None was terribly aromatic, except for maybe a scent of decay from the oldest sample.
After regaining our confidence lost from seeing the drippy, grey sample, we started our vertical tasting with the best of the bunch. Best, as in it hadn’t outlived its ‘best by’ date. Most people are probably familiar with the salty, sour taste and the soft texture that kind of sticks to your teeth. I guess a lot of people enjoy it. I’m not judging.
The 5-month sample tasted quite different. It tasted pungent and had a different texture. We wondered whether the recipe had changed along with the packaging.
The 11-month sample was more noteworthy. The flavor was mellowed and slightly nutty. The texture had relaxed into something like a custard or a firm panna cotta. Smooth, dense, but yielding and not at all sticky. My friend detected formaldehyde. I’m not familiar with that particular vapor, but yes, there was a trace of something of an origin that perhaps shouldn’t be cheese. Some soft cheeses produce ammonia as they age, so maybe it was that.
I was only brave enough to cut into the core of the oldest sample, which presented small volume to evaluate. But further complexity was present. There was also a cheddar-like sharpness that was absent from the other samples. The texture was similar to the 11-month sample. Aside from the frightful exterior, this was the most cheese-like of all.
In the end, I didn’t get sick. I got to enjoy a nice Spanish-themed dinner with my good friends. And I enjoyed months of happy anticipation for the unveiling. Any regrets? That I didn’t start this sooner. And I wish I took better notes of my impressions. But in the end, I consider my hypothesis proven correct with caveats. Yes, Babybel cheese will age and gain character. But it will gain unfriendlies that you don’t want to eat. Pros and cons.