One of the most common questions we get is “How should I store my cheese?”. Well, that’s a great question, and a very important one!
Specialty cheese is an expensive and precious food and should be handled with care just like good wine or any other quality consumable.
Different cheese styles, types & ages require different care, but a safe bet is to use cheese paper.
At Eat More Cheese, all of the cheese you buy from us will come wrapped in cheese paper, with a few exceptions (usually prepackaged cheeses that come in their own special containers).
Our cheese paper is specially made in France and consists of an inner porous layer and an outer paper layer. The idea behind the cheese paper is to mimic the conditions found in a cheese cave - humid, but not suffocating.
The famous natural limestone caves of Roquefort
So, why does cheese benefit from these conditions? Because it is a living product! Cheese, especially younger varieties, is still very much active and evolving, and suffocating it in plastic or letting it dry out will lead to off flavors & smells, undesirable textures and shortened shelf life.
One of the most common and problematic sins committed when wrapping is to suffocate cheeses with living rinds, like Brie or Taleggio. If a cheese has a white, fluffy rind or a pinkish, copper colored rind, definitely don’t keep it in plastic for long!
A natural byproduct of the flora that lives on the rind of cheese is ammonia. When properly wrapped, the ammonia is allowed to dissipate, but when wrapped in plastic for long periods of time, it will sink into the cheese. If you’ve ever smelled (or tasted) ammonia, you know it’s not pleasant! It leaves a very bitter, pungent and lingering flavor in the cheese.
Some cheeses, like aged goudas with their waxed rinds or sturdy aged Italian cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, are not as sensitive to storage conditions. They certainly can & should be wrapped in cheese paper, but they aren’t too fussy about a couple days in plastic wrap.
So, what do you do if you have no cheese paper? A couple options work in a pinch, both of which aim to preserve the balance of air flow & humidity.
Loosely wrapping a cheese in plastic wrap with an outer layer of foil or wax paper can work in a pinch. Just make sure to check on the cheese every day or so and make sure it isn’t drying out or developing off flavors or slimy texture.
Another option is to pierce the lid of a plastic food storage container a number of times to allow airflow - store your cheese directly in the container, unwrapped. Keep in mind that bacteria can easily spread from cheese to cheese in these conditions, so it is wise to keep different styles separated in separate containers - blue & bloomy rind cheeses are particularly notorious for causing trouble with their neighbors!
The fluffy white bloomy rind of Brie de Meaux and the sticky, pink/orange rind of Taleggio
Finally, you may ask “OK, smarty pants, why do you guys wrap your cheese in plastic at the shop?”.
Because cheese needs to be visible to customers when on display, we do wrap many cheeses in plastic. To minimize plastic usage we only store smaller display portions in plastic, with the majority kept separately in cheese paper.
Most of our cheese is regularly unwrapped and cut from, multiple times per day, so it doesn’t suffer from the effects of plastic. We also regularly “clean” our cheese, which involves unwrapping & scraping away the exposed surfaces - this ensures that our customers only receive the freshest cuts.
Finally, for particularly delicate cheeses (like the aforementioned bloomy & washed rinds), we use a special plant based porous, transparent cellophane material - this material is not detrimental to cheese in the same way that plastic wrap is.
The final bit to touch on is temperature - cheese should be stored in cool conditions, especially for longer periods of time.
Softer & young cheeses should be kept in refrigeration unless you are planning on enjoying them soon, while more aged cheeses can handle some time at room temperature (68-70 degrees), one should be mindful not to allow them to get too warm, as they can “sweat” out their butterfat which causes the cheese to lose flavor and dry out.
Having said that, cheese is more durable than many give it credit for! After all, it became such a staple in our diets because it was a reliable method to preserve milk. Your cheese will not spoil on the drive home (within reason!) or if you forget it on the counter for a couple hours!
So, now you know how to store cheese! If you decided this wall of text was too imposing, it can be summarized as such - keep cheese cool, humid & allow it to breathe.