If you’re reading this, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re a cheese lover. I’m sure you have the best intentions, but there’s a good chance that you’re committing some crimes against your cheese without even realizing it. Like any lover, cheese deserves respect and proper handling. A good wedge of cheese is precious, magical, and expensive, so you want to get the most pleasure possible out of that sultry wedge.
When you treat that cheese wrong, it’ll go from seductive treat to a slimy, ammoniated mess. But if you show it the love and respect it deserves, well, it’ll treat you real nice in return. Don’t worry, we all make mistakes. What matters is that you’re willing to change, and fortunately this kind of self-improvement has a distinctly delicious reward. So let’s start here, with the 10 mistakes you are probably making with cheese, and how to fix them.
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1. Storing cheese in plastic wrap
If you’ve ever bought a wedge of cheese at a grocery store that tasted like crayons or even cat piss, don’t blame the cheese, blame the plastic wrap it’s stored in. Like many fermented foods, cheese is alive and needs oxygen to breathe. Plastic wrap cuts off the air supply, suffocating the cheese and creating that nasty, ammoniated flavor. It also traps moisture, which can make the cheese slimy and cause unwanted mold growth. I highly recommend using a specialty cheese paper, but you can also wrap it tightly in wax paper then store it loosely in a plastic bag.
2. Eating it straight out of the refrigerator
When you break into a cold cheese, you miss out on a lot of tasty complexity. Refrigeration dulls the flavor and makes a cheese’s texture brittle instead of soft and yielding. Always let soft cheeses, like Camembert, sit out for at least 20 minutes, and allow firmer wedges like Gouda to temper for at least 40 minutes. Trust me, your patience will pay off.
3. Throwing the rind in the garbage
Don’t sleep on that cheese rind! Unless they’re coated in wax or cloth, rinds are edible and can add all kinds of exciting flavors and textures to your cheese experience. I especially love the funky, peppery flavors on soft-ripened goat’s milk cheeses like Humboldt Fog. Even if you’re squeamish, try the rind at least once, and if you don’t like it then don’t eat it again. I don’t recommend eating rinds on really hard cheese like Parmigiano, but they’re great for broths and dog treats.
4. Topping with accompaniments before trying the cheese by itself
Like I said before, cheese is a magical, delicious work of art. It deserves your full, unadulterated love and attention. As much as I love -- and I mean love -- a good jam or honey, it’s just plain rude to dollop that stuff on top of your cheese before you get to experience all it has to offer in its naked glory. So taste your cheese alone first, then try adding a little something extra to take it to the next level.
5. Buying too much cheese at once
I’m not telling you to buy less cheese, I’m just telling you to buy it more often. You see, cheese begins to deteriorate as soon as it’s cut from the wheel, and it will lose flavor even faster when it’s sliced into little pieces. For the best flavor, only buy as much cheese as you can eat within a few days. Once you polish it off, go visit your local cheesemonger again and re-up your supply. It pays to develop a relationship with your monger: They always know what’s tasting best.
6. Buying pre-shredded cheese.
I like shoving fistfuls of grated cheese into my mouth as much as the next gal, but I always take the extra step to grate it fresh. Pre-shredded cheese has preservatives and declumping agents that can actually make the texture a little rubbery when you melt it down. Even if you prefer your shredded cheddar straight up, freshly grated cheese has way more flavor, a more pliable texture, and it’s also cheaper.
7. Completely ignoring cheese because you’re lactose intolerant
This is my favorite myth to bust: Many cheeses are virtually lactose-free. The process of cheesemaking converts lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, which is why cheese is so tangy. The longer they age, the less lactose they have. If you are cursed with lactose intolerance, go for older wedges like Cheddar, Gouda, or Parmigiano.
8. Using the same knife for every cheese
I always get mad anxiety when I see a beautiful platter with an array of wedges but only one knife. Each one of those cheese has a unique, complex flavor that is special and deserving of its moment in the spotlight of your palate. If you use the same knife for all of them, that velvety fresh goat cheese will start to taste the same as the Stilton and vice versa. That’s straight disrespectful.
9. Putting your cheese in the freezer
This especially applies to fresh cheeses, like feta and mozzarella. All that water content forms ice crystals, which can mess with the cheese’s protein structure and ruin its texture. You can freeze harder, aged cheeses like Parmigiano. Just make sure to wrap them up tightly in paper, than plastic, then a little tin foil to keep out the nasty smells that lurk in all our refrigerators. I also recommend using them for cooking rather than on a cheese platter, since it will be forever changed after its stint in the icy depths of your freezer.
10. Cubing your cheese
More surface area means more flavor on your tongue, so you always want to go with thin slices instead of cubes. Always let the cheese’s shape tell you how to cut it: Slice wedges into thin triangles and cut whole wheels like you would a pie, aiming for an equal rind ratio. Some cheeses, like blues, don’t like to be sliced and prefer to get crumbled. For super-flavorful cheeses like French Comté, I recommend investing in a cheese plane so you can shave razor-thin slices that will melt onto your tongue.
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