Washed rind cheeses are fascinating. There are so many possibilities when developing the rind of a cheese to add a unique flavor, texture, or note that truly makes it a work of art and skill.
I learned how to make cheese well in the Swiss Alps of the Canton of Bern. The cheeses here are all washed rinds -no mold allowed. I told them about some French style cheeses that intentionally mold the rind, and they thought this was bizarre, and couldn't understand why anyone would do such a thing.
The wash I learned was simple. A little water, a little salt, and a little white wine (no b. linen cultures or anything like that). This makes a nice golden brown rind which really has a pleasant, simple flavor. The wine also does a quick job of making the surface uninviting to any molds. I found that even in my blue mold infested cellar in damp humid Indiana, this wash keeps my cheeses spotless.
After my weeks on the Alp, I traveled around and sampled other cheeses from the country. Quickly I learned that across the country, the recipe of the wash varies tremendously. Even in the Berner Oberland, producers of the same cheese (Berner Alpkäse, the most wonderful thing on earth, well maybe the second most wonderful thing) vary their wash. Some might use a different wine, some might use no wine, some add a little spice to their wash. This of course is most evident in the famous Appenzeller Cheese (a very fine cheese, if you are fortunate enough to ever actually get top quality, mature cheese) where the specific herbs and spices of the wash are a very closely guarded secret (a secret that is the center of an entertaining Swiss advertising campaign).
The German-speaking Swiss seem to prefer a washed rind exclusively, and I must say I tend to agree with them (ok, so I admit it, I am German Swiss). Some of the washes, however, can get quite spectacular. Some cheeses, such as Appenzeller, typically use a brewed herbal wash to add flavor to the cheese. Others, such as Amsoldinger, use a rubbing of herbs and spices on the outside of the cheese which build up a hard film over time.
Some washers use salt water, other rub the cheese by hand with a handful of dry salt. Some do the same with other spices. Some brew the spices into a kind of tea and use that, together with white wine, to wash and flavor the cheese.
I used to use a simple salt wash, but found it was very difficult to keep mold at bay with that. Now I use wine in everything (which is nice, because the alcohol preserves the wash, letting me keep it on the shelf with my cheese for a very long time.) I've begun to experiment with some herbs and spices in liquid form, maybe someday when I have a few wheels of Mutschli on the shelf, I'll try a salt and spice rub and see how that goes.
So what tricks do you all have up your sleeves?