As Certified Cheese Professionals (yes, that’s a thing), we get a lot of questions about cheese. Here we’ve recapped what’s important about selecting and storing cheese. And remember, you can always come into the shop or call a monger, and we’ll be here for you and happy to help.
How to Select Cheese
Visit a Cheese Shop!
Clearly, we’re partial to letting the professionals take this one. That means, the
best way you can select cheese that you know you’ll love is to visit your local cheese shop. Why? Cheesemongers will ask you questions to understand your preferences and even give you tastes and samples along the way. Without fear of sounding like a car salesman, that’s our 100% customer satisfaction guarantee: you get to taste it before you buy it! We sometimes hear that folks are intimidated by the thought of going into a cheese shop because they don’t know what to ask for. Don’t be! Seriously! That is literally our job to figure it out for you. We’ll do the hard part. You stand there and taste. When you do a happy dance (or whatever your version of it is), we’ll know we’ve found a winner. Repeat steps until all desired cheeses and pairings are found… and remember, what makes a cheese shop special is:
- Samples: Did we already say samples? And we don’t just mean passive samples sitting out where lots of folks can touch and breathe on them. We “fresh cut a piece of cheese and hand it to you” kind of samples.
- Service: Cheese Shops provide cut-to-order service. That means, you get to order just the size you’re looking for (which helps the wallet and decrease food waste). For us personally, that service comes with copious smiles.
- Selection: Cheese Shops often have a smaller, intentionally curated selection. That means our hands are on almost every piece of cheese every single day. So you’re less likely to accidentally purchase a piece of cheese that was cut a month ago and has been passed over. (Cheese is a living thing! Until it gets cut and plastic-wrapped and can’t breathe.) You get to get cheese at its best.
At Your Grocery Store
Okay, so if you’re like Kendall’s mother who loves cheese but lives 100+ miles from metropolitan areas, chances are you’re going to need to get your regular cheese fix at your local grocery store. Great news. Grocery stores stock cheese as well. You’re just going to have to do a little more work on selecting the right cheese, and it can be a bit riskier if you can’t try it or see under that pre-wrapped label. So, here are some tips:
- Look for a “cut and wrap” date. You want it to be as recent as possible, ideally within the last couple of days. (The softer the cheese, the more this matters. Harder cheeses are, well, heartier, and can handle longer times in plastic wrap.)
- Precut cheeses in original packaging from the cheesemaker are often your best bet. Cheesemakers spend tons of time and research developing the best packaging for their cheeses to get to you in a yummy state when you can’t get fresh, cut-to-order service. (Just check out the “best by” date. While cheese is often fine after that date, it’s a clue for how long that cheese has been hanging out at the store.)
How to Store Cheese
In short, don’t! Buy what you need for a week, eat it, then repeat. Resist the temptation to buy the largest chunk of cheese ever and graze on it for over a month. While that aged cheese won’t go bad, it does change flavor - absorbing odors in your fridge. Why?
Cheese needs to “breathe”. Really, it needs a regular exchange of air. It needs to be able to give off natural gases like ammonia as it ages. It also absorbs chemicals and flavor from whatever is around it. That translates to this:
- If a cheesemonger fresh cut it when you ordered it, they likely wrapped it in special cheese paper (that looks kind of like parchment paper). This has small perforated holes to allow for oxygen exchange. Leave it in this! (Have I mentioned Cheese Shops rock for taking care of cheese?!)
- If you purchased a pre-cut piece of cheese in the cheesemaker’s original packaging, leave it in that. It’s specially designed to care for the cheese.
- If you purchased a piece of cheese in plastic wrap, you’ll want to unwrap it. Rewrap it in wax or parchment paper. If you’re worried about it drying out because you need it later in the week, then stick it in a zip lock bag or container. Open that bag or container every couple of days to let new air in and out. (Have we mentioned we’re cheese geeks?!)
So, all this is fine and dandy, but woops! You find an old piece of cheese in your fridge. If it’s a softer cheese, you may need to just pitch it. However, if it's a firmer cheese, you can most likely scrap off the outsides and use it to cook with. It won’t be an ideal cheese for a cheese board anymore, but it’ll be a great, tasty source of protein cooked into your favorite cheese recipe.
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