The Care and Keeping of Cheeses

Cheese wrapped in paper at a New Seasons grocery store

If there’s a question that almost nobody asks our cheesemongers, it’s this one: “how do I take care of this cheese?”

Particularly if you’re spending a fair bit of money on artisanal cheeses, you don’t want them to just rot in your refrigerator. (I hope.)

But too many people don’t actually know the proper way to care for and keep their tasty little morsels.

Cheese is a living, breathing thing. It likes moisture and air. Too much of the cheese we sell and buy in the US is wrapped in plastic—and plastic is a cheese murderer.

Then why do we do that to our cheese? Because you can see what the cheese looks like.

If you can see how beautiful a cheese is that you’ve never tasted, you might be more inclined to try or buy it. Plus plastic wrap gives the added bonus of being able to see whether the cheese is in good condition, or if it’s moldy, dried up, bleached out, or some other kind of gross.

In an ideal world, we would all have a private cave in our homes to store our cheeses and wines. They would live together in perfect harmony in the nice, dark, damp, cellar until we were ready to consume them. But—I hate to break it to you—we don’t live in an ideal world.

So what can you do at home to ensure your cheeses don’t die a sad death of suffocation in the frozen tundra of your fridge?

There are a few possibilities.

My boss’ favorite bit of advice is to, “Only buy what you’re going to eat today.” That’s definitely more of a European outlook than an American one, but she’s right. The less your cheese is handled and transferred in and out of cooling systems, the happier (and tastier) it will be.

That said, we can’t always purchase small quantities of cheese at a time, for various reasons of money, time, distance, and so forth. That means you need to have a better way of storing your cheese at home until it’s all been eaten.

A good way is to take your cheese out of its plastic wrap and wrap it in paper (as in the cover photo for this post). You can use parchment paper or butcher paper if you don’t have money to purchase expensive cheese paper. (Although cheese paper looks and sounds cool.) You can also ask your cheesemonger to re-wrap your cheese in paper before you leave the store.

An added bonus for using paper is that you can usually reuse it until the cheese is all gone. That’s not as easy with plastic wrap. Depending on who wrapped the cheese and how, it’s often really hard to get the plastic off of the cheese without shredding the plastic and rendering it useless. Paper is more durable and responds marvelously to being taped back together.

cheese-bellNow an even better way to store your cheese is in a cheese bell. This contraption is essentially just a glass dome that encapsulates your unwrapped cheese as it sits on a wooden board. There’s enough air for the cheese to breathe, but it’s enclosed so that you technically don’t have to put it in the refrigerator—so long as you have a cool, dark shelf on which to leave the bell.

Most Americans would scoff at the idea of leaving any dairy product out of the refrigerator. I know people who will literally throw away a gallon of milk if it’s left on the counter for over half an hour.

Europeans generally have a different outlook on food safety. For example, vegetables get the can if they’re left out overnight, as they are often considered more dangerous than dairy or cooked meat products.

Refrigerators can be too cold for cheese. That’s why some of the Europeans I know keep their cheeses in the garage during the cooler months (in a food-safe container, of course). Not only is the cheese less likely to be harmed by too-cold air, but it’s also closer to the correct temperature for consumption.

Cheese is best eaten at room temperature. Much like how a butter bell keeps your butter ready to spread at all times without letting it get moldy and gross, a cheese bell keeps your cheese ready to eat whenever you want.

Some stores sell cheese keepers or boxes to store your cheese in the fridge. Those are OK, but still not quite as good as a cheese bell. And frankly, if you’re going to put your cheese in a special box, you might as well just stick it in Tupperware.

The only thing you have to watch out for if you’re storing unwrapped cheeses together in any container is that you keep different types of cheeses separate. Bloomy rind cheeses like bries and triple creams and blue cheeses should not be stored with other types of cheeses, unless you want everything to go bad together.

Bloomy rind cheeses and blue cheeses are constantly sending their little spores out into the air, and those spores will land on your cheddars, chèvres and goudas and make them sick. You can store all your bries together and all your blues together, but don’t store bries and blues together—and especially not with anything else.

Take care of your cheeses, and your nose and mouth will thank you.

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