Things You're Doing Wrong With Cheese
Cheese -- in its many, many forms -- is undeniably the most glorious food available to humankind, and if you don't believe that, you're fooling yourself. Or maybe lactose intolerant. If so, our sincere apologies, because you're missing out. But at least you're not messing up a good block of dairy, which, it turns out, is pretty easy to screw up. That's why we talked to cheesemonger Steve Jones of Portland's acclaimed Chizu and Cheese Bar to figure out what you're doing wrong with cheese... and how you can fix it.
You store it improperlyCheese, like that dirty dish sponge in your sink that you haven't changed in a month, soaks up flavors. And since cheese is stored in the fridge, it soaks up whatever gross air is being recirculated there. So take your cheese out of its cellophane/plastic prison, wrap it in cheese paper (you can buy this in fine cheese shops everywhere), ensnare it in a rubber band, and then throw it in a Ziploc bag. "The cheese paper allows the cheese to breathe," Jones says, "and the Ziploc will keep the humidity where it needs to be, and not let all the odd refrigerator flavors affect it."
You serve and eat it at the wrong temperatureCheese shouldn't be eaten ice cold. "I like to give cheese a half-hour [outside of the fridge] if I have a chance," Jones says. He says he'll even put cheese in his pockets to warm it up if people are visiting and he's forgotten to take it out of the fridge. Please make sure your pockets are free of change before this professional maneuver. He does warn that "the softer the cheese is, you don't want to give it a super-long time [out of the refrigerator]," but since cheese is aged in caves where the temp tends to be around 55-58 degrees, you'll get the best flavors out of your cheese "when you serve it [at a temperature] between cold and warm."
You buy pre-cut cheeseGrocery stores are convenient places to buy cheese (and sugary cereal your mom denied you when you were younger), but they might not be the best places to buy fresh cheese. "If cheese has [already] been cut and wrapped, it won't be as good as the piece cut that day," Jones explains. Sadly, a ton of that convenient supermarket cheese is wrapped in cellophane, which gives the cheese a lot of "bad off-flavors." He recommends looking for a "use-by" or "cut-on" date that's no more than three days old. Or just buy from a place that slices the cheese in front of you and wraps it in cheese paper.
You're afraid of price tagsHere's a secret: "expensive cheese" isn't that expensive. Don't let a $45 p/pound cheese turn you off. Because you're not going to buy a pound of it. Instead, buy a quarter-pound of it for about $10 and enjoy some of the finest cheese in the world. Jones highlights a few cheeses that are worth the seemingly steep price of admission: the hard-to-find, seasonally available French raw milk cheese Vacherin Mont d’Or, and Rogue River blue cheese from Oregon's Rogue Creamery, which is aged in grape leaves and soaked in pear brandy. That seems like it'd be worth more than $10 for a taste.
You only buy processed cheeseEven Jones admits he loves him some Velveeta cheese at a Super Bowl party. And nothing makes a better grilled cheese than those bright-orange slices covered in plastic. But there are some solid reasons for buying other kinds of cheese. "Cheese is much healthier for you than processed cheesefood. If the cow's feeding on green grass, [the resulting cheese] has omega-3s and other things that are good for your body," he says. The processed cheesefood slices "have a lot of oil and other non-healthy ingredients." Instead, he recommends you snag an affordable aged American cheddar, like options from Tillamook, Grafton Village Cheese, Shelburne Farms, or Cabot.
You fear stinky cheese"The best cheeses in the world are generally stinky," Jones says. However, if you work at it and "take baby steps up the stink ladder," you can "acclimate yourself to the smell" and enjoy some seriously good cheese. He compared it to trying a Belgian tripel for the first time. While you might not think it even tastes like a beer, once you've had it enough, you can appreciate its complexity and flavors. Or, you know, just get over the smell like a big kid.
You botch your pairingsWhile Jones is a kind, patient man, when people ask him to pair a "big red wine with blue cheese," he says he thinks to himself, "Why the fuck would you want to do that?" And then he steers them towards something that pairs better. Go ahead, ask your local cheesemonger for some good pairing options for that beer or wine sitting in your fridge. Or if you're too lazy to leave the house, Wine Folly can learn you the basics of wine-and-cheese pairing.
You buy too muchBoy, talk about a first-world problem. But food waste is no joke (Americans waste 20lb of food p/person every month), and it's also money that could be better spent. On alcohol, obviously. But we digress. Jones says a good rule of thumb is to "buy less, but more often." A good rule of thumb is that "most people will eat no more than 3oz of cheese per sitting." He recommends buying a few cheeses max per visit to your local cheese shop/supermarket.
You're intimidated by itLike we said, Jones is a super-nice guy who isn't bothered by dumb questions. Trust us, we asked him quite a few. Like, "I know where babies come from, but do you know where they come from?" But back to the cheese stuff. "If you're going to a cheese shop where the monger's an asshole, go to a different shop," he says. "It should be fun! Cheese is fun." So don't let the millions of choices in a good cheese shop deter you from stopping in. He also says to make sure the shop cuts your cheese to order, wraps it in cheese paper, and turns over the product quickly.
You don't try new cheesesIf you know what kind of cheese you like, bully for you! Keep buying it up. But there's nothing better than discovering something new to eat. If you want to expand your cheese horizons, or if you don't know what you like, go to a shop that offers free samples. Jones says he helps point customers to new cheese by asking what cheeses they currently like, but if they're not sure, he gives them a middle-of-the-road sheep's milk cheese from the French Pyrenees called Ossau-Iraty. Based on their reaction to that specific cheese, he can deduce what else they'll like. Cheesemongers are magicians.
You cut it wrong"A good, well-crafted, handmade cheese is going to taste different by the rind than it will in the middle," Jones says. And because it's quite nice to try the "earthier flavors" by the rind and also the "fruitier flavors by the middle," he recommends you "cut cheese from the rind to the tip." This will ensure that if you're laying out a cheeseboard for a party, everyone will get a chance to taste the full array of flavors. And if you're ever in doubt, consult a Frenchman.
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