Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: Good cheese is an investment -- protect it.
When it comes to cheese, sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Ideally, you shouldn't buy more cheese than you can consume in a few days. However few of us have a strong enough will to resist the jewel-like beauties of the cheese aisle, despite their often hefty price tag. One thing's for sure: if you're dropping a bundle on some curdled milk, you better make sure to keep it as fresh as possible for as long as possible.
First thing's first: steer clear of plastic wrap.
This may come as a surprise, especially to the vegetarians in the room, but cheese is actually a living thing. It sweats. It ages. It even breathes. When cheese is wrapped in plastic wrap it can no longer intake oxygen -- in short, it suffocates, resulting in an amoniac flavor and possibly even harmful bacteria.
As self-professed "curd nerd" Jake Lahne of Serious Cheese explains, plastic wrap can also cause the cheese to taste like, well, plastic. Which is not the flavor you were hoping for when you invested in a $15 hunk of funky Scharfe Maxx from the cheesemonger. So if your cheese was wrapped in plastic at the supermarket, free it from its bonds as soon as you get home. Because you know better.
Next, we wrap our own way.
If plastic wrap is a no-no, what should you wrap your cheese in? The overwhelming consensus is: cheese paper. This specialty item allows the cheese to breathe, but also protects it from drying out. If you don't want to invest in cheese paper, parchment paper (which we went with) works just fine.
Assemble your tools: cheese paper (or parchment paper), scissors, masking tape, a marker, and, of course, the cheese in question. It's time to wrap.
Cut off a large square of wrapping paper -- we recommend it be 2 to 3 times the size of your cheese, just to be safe. Place your cheese diagonally with the thicker end at one corner and the thinner end pointing toward the center.
Fold the corner over the fat end of the cheese. Crease. Flatten the paper along one side, as you would do wrapping a present.
Pull the side you had flattened tightly across the cheese. Crease. Repeat this process on the opposite side of the cheese, being sure to keep the paper pulled tightly.
Crease the tail sticking out from the end of your cheese. Pull it up towards the thicker part of the cheese.
Ta-da! Tape the final flap to secure your beautiful, secure cheese package. Make sure to write the type of cheese, as well as the date on which you purchased it, on the tape. That way you can tell what's what without unwrapping, and can keep track of how long it's been sitting in your fridge.
If you're still feeling iffy about your wrapping skills, watch this handy-dandy video.
Hard cheeses should be true to their name, but you still need to be able to cut it. Tami Parr of The Pacific Northwest Cheese Project says that from the moment the curds are separated from the whey, your cheese begins to dehydrate. Refrigerators accelerate the dehydration process.
To help your firmer cheeses retain moisture put them inside an open plastic bag after they're wrapped. This should help keep the cheese from becoming an unappetizing rock while still allowing it to breathe. You can also wrap the whole thing loosely in plastic wrap, as suggested by Nora Singley of The Kitchn.
If you love blue cheese, you really love it. You love the pungent, acrid explosion that floods your tongue upon first contact, and then slowly mellows into a creamy backdrop. You also apparently love "karaoke, swing dancing, and shouting 'WOO HOO' when you're having fun." If you love your blue cheese, you've got to store it properly -- and keep it away from your other cheese, who might not love it as much as you.
Blue cheese is kind of a flavor hog. It knows it's got the sharpest taste around, and if you're not careful its flavors will infuse your more-mild specimens. To avoid this wrap your blue cheese in the same manner as above (you can even double-wrap to be extra safe), then store it in a plastic container.
This is where things get a little sticky. Remember when we said never to wrap your cheese in plastic wrap? Well, here we contradict ourselves a bit. Because when it comes to softer, creamy cheeses -- like a lovely, gooey, stinky brie or camembert -- people are in a bit of a disagreement about how to keep them at their peak.
Some, like Eat By Date, argue that wrapping softer cheeses in plastic wrap helps prevent them from drying out. Others, like the folks at Beecher's Handmade Cheese, opt for paper. In the end, if you decide to go the plastic route, just make sure to change your cheese every couple of days.
Very soft cheeses, such as ricotta or mozzerella, should be stored in its natural liquid in a plastic container. Watch it carefully because it will not last as long as some of its firmer cousins.
Now that your cheese is wrapped up pretty, where should you keep it? Real Simple advises to store wrapped cheese in a crisper in the fridge, which will have the most consistent temperature and humidity. If you're a true fromage fiend, devote a whole drawer of your fridge to cheese -- and then invite us over for a cheese party.
A few more assorted cheese storage tips:
If you unwrap your cheese and are surprised by something fuzzy clinging to its surface, don't panic. Just cut it off and continue munching; unless it's on a soft cheese in which case it may be past its prime. Trust your instincts -- if the cheese looks or smells off, it probably is.
Don't freeze cheese! It will muddle the flavor and texture. However, if you're just using the cheese for cooking, freezing is kosher.
If you take out your cheese for a cocktail party or for a late-night snack, be sure to re-wrap it in fresh paper.
In the end, your cheese is a living, breathing thing. Treat it like one, and it'll treat you back.
Photos by James Ransom