You’ve bought a wonderful piece of cheese. You bring it home and patiently wait an hour for it to come to room temperature, then cut into it and enjoy the delectable flavors. It’s heavenly. But, alas, you don’t eat it all; there’s still a nice chunk left to eat another day. How do you keep it so that you can enjoy it as much as you did the first time?
I’m often asked how to store cheese in my classes. Here are some pointers on best practices for storing your cheese.
First, consume your cheese as soon as possible after you purchased it. Cheese is living food and is still bacterially active, which means it’s growing and changing, but mostly in a negative way after purchase. It can dry out. Softer cheeses are most perishable because they have more moisture (whey); when the moisture dries out, the cheese also loses its flavors. Hard cheeses have lost moisture content, achieved through proper aging, and they can be stored for longer periods of time in your fridge. Somewhere in between soft and hard cheeses is a range of cheese textures that needs special attention.
My second tip is to not buy too much cheese. If you consistently have leftover cheese that’s turning dry or moldy, you are probably buying more than you need. Appetizer-size portions are two ounces per person. If you’re buying cheese for four people, multiply those two ounces each by four to get 8 total ounces needed. If you’re having a relaxed cheese and wine service, then you buy a little more, up to 4-ounces per person. Too often we are enticed by luscious-looking cheeses and we overbuy them. Do the math; losing good cheese is a shame.
My third pointer concerns where to store your cheese. If you’re eating a cheese on two consecutive days, refrigeration is not required, as long as the cheese is wrapped. Otherwise, cheeses are best kept in the vegetable crisper or humidified drawer, if you have one. Keep cheese by itself with no aromatic foods or deli meats around it. Cheese easily picks up the smells of other foods. If it’s well wrapped, your cheese can share space nicely with the vegetables.
My fourth tip is the key to good storage: the wrap. Discard the wrap that the cheese came in when you purchased it. It has served its purpose and is no longer usable. A fresh or clean piece of wrap must be used to tightly secure the cheese. Choices available include plastic wrap (food film), parchment, wax paper and Bee’s Wrap. Wax paper can be used if you overwrap the wax with plastic wrap for extra protection. Parchment is good for soft, delicate cheeses that you’ll eat soon. Bee’s Wrap, muslin cloth soaked in beeswax, is antibacterial and reusable.
Aluminum foil isn’t a good choice to wrap cheese because it deteriorates and breaks up.
Cheese needs to be appropriately wrapped according to the type and texture. Fresh cheeses have the shortest life, so buy what you can eat in a week and keep it stored in an air-tight plastic container with a tight lid. Keep Feta cheese in its salty liquid.
Semisoft, surface-ripened and soft washed-rind cheeses like Mt. Tam and other Brie styles should be stored in containers or lightly wrapped in parchment paper. Eat these within a few days, as they don’t keep well and will lose their best flavors and textures when refrigerated and brought back to room temperature more than once.
Semifirm types of cheese like Jack, Gouda, young cheddars, mozzarellas and Provolones need a good, tight food film that clings to the cheese and blocks out any air. These cheeses can last nicely in your refrigerator for a couple of weeks before they show signs of deterioration; saved for longer than that and you risk those little green and blue mold spots popping up, and they’ll also start to dry out. If the mold appears lightly, wipe or scrape it off if it’s only “skin deep.” If the mold has spread into the interior, you’ve lost it.
Firm cheeses like older Goudas, cheddars and Alpines are firm from maturing, but still have a good amount of moisture in them. Wrap these tight with plastic wrap by stretching and pulling the wrap firmly around the cheese to block out air and keep moisture from escaping. Master the “stretch and pull” technique to seal your cheese.
Blue cheeses are moldy on purpose, so use plastic wrap or wax or parchment paper, regardless of the Brie’s texture or age. Store your Brie in an air tight container. Do not let it mingle with other cheeses or that overly friendly blue mold will hop throughout your refrigerator.
Aged hard cheeses are already properly dried out by the cheesemakers; you don’t want them to lose any more moisture. Dried-out Parmesan-style cheeses lose their special flavors. Food film is best to preserve them. Make sure it’s tight and fits well. Double-wrap your cheese if necessary to keep previous moisture in place. These cheeses will last for weeks.
So each time you open up a hunk of stored cheese, throw away the old wrap and use a new piece to rewrap it. It’s best to cut off a hunk of the cheese you want and immediately rewrap it and put the rest back into the refrigerator. Cheeses like the temperature anywhere between 38 and 43 degrees Fahrenheit; those temperatures slow down the growth of cheese bacteria so that your cheese will last longer.
These are easy storage habits to acquire and you will benefit your cheese enjoyment and avoid losing expensive cheeses. Save the cheese!
Judy Creighton presents Second Sunday Cheese Classes from 2 to 3 p.m. at the Lavender Ridge Vineyard Rhone Room in Murphys for $20. Reserve at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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