Washed-rind cheeses are firmer, lower-moisture cheeses that were made in highlands and up in the mountains. The cheeses needed to be able to keep well, as oftentimes travel down the mountains was hard for many months of the year and anyone wishing to bring them down to the markets in the lowlands to sell there would have to wait till the spring.
The rind was washed to restrict bacteria growth, and as a result of the washing, the cheese would develop a hard rind. The washing isn’t always actual “washing”: it could be rubbing the moisture on, but it also might be dunking the cheese in a liquid, or brushing it with a liquid. The liquid can be beer, brine, brandy, Calvados, cider, oil, water, whey or wine.
The rinds from all washed-rind cheeses tend to be bitter tasting, and smelly.
This is often confused with smear-ripened cheeses; with smear-ripened cheeses, however, the goal is to encourage bacterial growth.
Aka “washed-crust cheeses.”