For Cheese Lovers
1. When buying cheese, it’s best to find a reliable source, such as a specialty market, cheese shop, or gourmet foods store that specializes in cheeses. Often, your local farmer’s market and a cheesemaker’s Web site are excellent resources, as you will often speak directly to the cheesemakers, who will ensure that the products are in the best possible condition. When using a retail store, you will want to make sure that the staff is knowledgeable and that turnover is swift. Those consumers that are the most fortunate will live in larger cities and have cut-to-order or cut-and-wrap retailers.
2. Check the labels, especially on fresh cheeses, to make sure that the product is well within its expiration date. For larger cheeses that are cut down to smaller amounts, the store label should also include an expiration date near the weight and price amounts. If a cheese is reduced in price for quick sale, it’s generally not a bargain, and your experience will be a less than happy one.
3. Check the condition of the cheese, especially for aroma, appearance, and flavor. Less desirable characteristics include ammonia, sour milk, barnyardy or unclean aromas. Further, the cheeses should be characteristic of their style, with an interior that is free of cracks, discoloration, and mold (unless it is a blue cheese). Note that natural rind cheeses, may have a rustic appearance, which is one of their attributes. When possible, taste the cheese before you buy. This is much easier in a cut-and-wrap environment. If you are unable to taste the cheese but want to give it a try, buy the smallest amount possible.
4. Because of the wide variety of dietary concerns and restrictions, check labels for the type of milk (cow, goat, sheep) from which the cheese was made, whether it is a pasteurized or raw milk, and whether it uses animal, vegetal, or microbial rennet. If the label doesn’t say, ask. A good cheesemonger will be able to tell you and will be happy to steer you in the right direction, especially if religious, dietary, or animal rights concerns govern your diet. At present, product ingredient labeling is inconsistent, but most good cheesemakers will supply the most important information on their labels.
5. In general, buy only as much cheese as you will be able to consume within a few days. If the cheese is wrapped in plastic at purchase, re-wrap the cheese as soon as possible in waxed or parchment paper, as air and moisture are integral to keeping the cheese in the best possible condition. If you get a cheese that is over the hill, return it to the store and ask for a replacement or a refund; most retailers are willing to keep their customers happy.
1. Always re-wrap cheese in fresh wrapping, preferably in waxed or parchment paper, after the cheese has been opened to avoid having the cheese dry out or pick up other flavors. Remember that natural cheese is a living organism, with enzymes and bacteria that need air and moisture to survive. Thus, re-wrapping the cheese in paper and then in plastic wrap to create a micro-environment for the cheese is the preferred storage treatment. However, you should not leave cheese in the same wrappings for extended periods of time.
2. The recommended temperature range for storing cheese is between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, at a high humidity level, preferably in the bottom vegetable/fruit bin. To avoid accidentally freezing the cheese, don’t store it near the freezer compartment or in the meat bin.
3. Double wrap strong, pungent cheeses, such as blue, aged brick, or washed rind varieties, to avoid having their aromas permeate other foods. It is best to place these cheeses in an airtight container for extra assurance against aroma leakage. And it’s best to store cheeses separately if possible, especially blues, washed rinds and milder cheeses, as they will pick up each other’s flavors.
4. If cheeses other than fresh cheeses and blues have surpassed their expiration dates (imprinted on the packaging) or if the cheese develops a blue-green mold on the exterior, make a cut about a ½ inch below the mold to ensure that it has been entirely removed; the remaining cheese will be fine.
5. In general, never freeze natural cheeses, as they may lose their texture, and in some cases their flavor profiles will be seriously altered. If you must freeze cheese, allow the cheese to thaw slowly in the refrigerator and use it for cooking, as the texture will become crumbly and dry after it is defrosted.
6. If stored and wrapped cheeses are overly dry, develop a slimy texture, exhibit ammoniated or any off odors, it’s best to discard them. If you find these characteristics in cheeses at your local shop, do not purchase them, as they are past their prime. If a retailer’s offerings consistently display the above characteristics, it’s best to find another resource for your cheese.