It’s an age-old story: You’re hungry, so you open your fridge for a snack. You mouse around in the deli drawer until your hand lands on a squishy nub loosely wrapped in crusty plastic. Before you lies the last bite of double-cream brie. You bought it at the cheese counter a month ago with all the best intentions, but after gorging on cheddars, appenzellers, and blues, you just couldn’t finish that glorious bloomy-rinded wedge. So, you wrapped it in a little plastic and tossed it in the fridge to be forgotten. Now that cheese has reappeared to haunt you: dried-out and disfigured from neglect, violated by the molds and bacteria living within your fridge.
Cheese is a fermented product, which means it’s alive and ever-changing. When stored improperly, cheese will develop off-flavors and change in texture, withering away in a slow and painful death. The vibrant, creamy, expensive brie that you purchased is now a sour, ammoniated, worthless corpse – and it’s all your fault. But you’re not alone. Millions of cheeses are left for dead in deli drawers across America, forgotten about by their once-enamored suitors. We’re all guilty; even the most passionate turophiles have blood and whey on their hands.
With the right tools and mindset, however, we can ensure that every precious cheese lives to fulfill its delicious destiny inside your belly. I’m here to teach you how to select and maintain your artisanal cheeses and prepare you for a life of harmonious curd-loving.
- Buy small
You should never buy more cheese than you can eat in a couple of days. Once the rind is cut and the paste is exposed to oxygen, the cheese begins to deteriorate. Try buying small pieces of freshly cut cheeses often. Obviously, we don’t all live by a cut-to-order cheese counter, but you can check the dates on cheeses or ask when they were cut. Cheeses with a higher moisture content will deteriorate more quickly, while semi-firm and hard cheeses will keep for much longer.
- Wrap it right
Once you get your cheese baby home, remove any plastic wrapping immediately. Cheese should not be wrapped in plastic at your home, it suffocates the rind and kills the cheese. Instead, neatly tuck wedges into wax paper or specialty cheese paper, like these from Formaticum. The refrigerator is a particularly dry environment, so you can preserve moisture by storing the wrapped cheese in a Ziploc bag or in Tupperware. Be sure to keep blues separate to avoid cross contaminating the other cheeses.
- Keep the temperature constant
Cheese is ideally stored in a cool, moist environment. The top shelf of the refrigerator is usually the warmest spot, but all fridges are different. Don’t ever freeze cheeses, which will alter their texture irreparably. When a cheese gets too warm, moisture leaks from the paste creating a greasy, rubbery mess. Before enjoying your cheese, let it rest at room temperature.
- Attempt resuscitation
So you did everything right: you bought a fresh cut of young gouda, wrapped it in cheese paper, and stored it in a cool dry place. Then you forgot about it. It’s OK, we all make mistakes, though I thought you had learned from yours by now. While your cheese is past its prime, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the damage. If the paste is dry, tastes like refrigeration, or is spotted with white or blue mold, lightly scrape the first layer from the paste with a sharp knife, called “facing.” You don’t want to dig deeply, just remove about a millimeter or so. If your cheeses smells like ammonia because it spent too much time in plastic, let it rest in wax paper at room temperature.
For more information on storing cheese at home, check out this article for Tasting Table by cheese wiz Liz Thorpe.