You’ve been budgeting for that $20 a pound French Morbier cheese and you finally brought some home. You eat a bit, and though you’d love to finish it you decide to save it for a family dinner next week. You put it in a plastic zip-lock baggie, place it gently in the refrigerator, and leave it for five days. When you take it out, it’s covered top to bottom with mold.
We hope that this epicurean nightmare hasn’t yet happened to you, but if it has, here are some tips to remember when it comes to properly storing cheese.
• Plastic is the enemy. If the cheese you bought from the store is wrapped or vacuum-sealed in any type of plastic, remove it immediately. Unfortunately, most store-bought cheese is packaged this way. Even a cheese that started off as a big, beautiful wax-covered wheel invariably gets wrapped in plastic once the wheel has been cut.
The reason that plastic is a no-no is because cheese cultures, at least in food terms, live and breathe. Plastic suffocates these cultures. In addition, plastic also imparts its own flavor to cheese, and you’d certainly rather be savoring the bouquet of brie than baggie.
• Purchase some cheese paper. Cheese paper is made specifically for cheese storage. If your store doesn’t carry cheese paper, you can purchase parchment paper or waxed paper instead. Place the cheese in the middle of a square of this paper and fold the edges over the cheese. Don’t wrap the cheese too tightly; remember, it’s got to breathe, and too-tight wrapping will also encourage bacteria to grow. You should, however, make sharp creases in the edges of the folds, as this helps to protect the cheese from odors. Tape the edges securely. Place a sticker on the wrapped package with the name of the cheese and the date so that your cheeses don’t get mixed up; otherwise, you’ll be unwrapping cheeses unnecessarily.
• Get some cheese containers. While plastic is the enemy of cheese, you can still use hard plastic containers to put the cheese in as long as the cheese is wrapped in its paper package. That’s because the paper adequately protects the cheese, allowing it to breathe inside. By using a cheese container, you’ll be protecting the cheese from refrigerator odors, which cheeses can quickly and easily absorb.
• Keep cheese in the refrigerator. Never mind that you met an epicurean who told you about a way to age cheese on your windowsill; it’s just not safe. Today’s cheeses have cultures that can quickly break down and deteriorate, especially when left unrefrigerated. Experts, however, do suggest that you keep the cheese in the warmest part of the fridge, such as in a vegetable or dairy drawer; otherwise, it will get too cold and collect moisture.
• Don’t wrap cheese in foil. Using foil is a bad idea because of the acidity in some cheeses which can react badly with the foil.
• Never buy large quantities of cheese unless you intend to eat them right away. Today’s cheeses weren’t meant to be stored at home for weeks or months unless the cheese isn’t quite ripe, as is often the case with a too-young Limburger. Buy only what you’ll be able to eat within a week or 10 days.
• Keep fresh cheeses such as mozzarella in their original containers and make sure that you keep them in a colder part of the refrigerator. These cheeses have a shorter shelf life and should be eaten as soon as possible.
• Give your cheese a rubdown. If you’ve used the paper storage method and you’ve had a problem with cheeses drying out, you can try rubbing the entire surface of the cheese with a bit of olive or canola oil. Don’t use this method on washed-rind or blue cheeses, however, because the oil will be absorbed and ruin the cheese.
The most important thing to remember is to always remove cheese from its plastic wrap just as soon as you get it home. Once you follow this rule of thumb and use the paper wrapping method, you’ll find that your cheeses will taste fresher and last longer without drying out or getting moldy.