Everything you ever wanted to know about cheese but were too afraid to ask

12 August 2023

How should cheese be stored? How does one create and eat a cheese platter? Should you eat the rinds?

People have many questions about cheese. Here’s some helpful guidance.

How should cheese be stored?

Cheese should be kept in the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in parchment paper. The vegetable drawer is ideal, as it’s the most humid part of the fridge. Hard cheeses like cheddar, Gruyère, or Parmesan should be removed from the parchment paper and stored in a closed container along with a couple of sugar cubes. Sugar helps regulate humidity and can extend cheese preservation by up to two months.

How should I eat my cheese?

In short, any way you prefer, but we recommend taking the cheeses out of the refrigerator, unwrapping them from the parchment paper, and allowing them to come to room temperature before consuming. When arranging a cheese platter, place the cheeses in increasing order of intensity, usually starting with the milder goat cheese and ending with the blue cheeses. This ensures that the delicate flavors of the milder cheeses won’t be overshadowed by the more complex ones. Don’t forget to seek advice from your cheesemonger!

I’m lactose intolerant: what cheeses can I eat?

Lactose intolerance occurs when people stop producing the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose into other sugars. Most mammals stop producing this enzyme after weaning, but humans can continue to produce it throughout life. Lactose-intolerant individuals cannot consume animal milk in any quantity without experiencing health issues. Generally, they can tolerate small amounts of whole milk better than modern low-fat milks, which are often fortified with extra lactose-containing skim milk powder.

Contrary to popular belief, hard, cooked-curd cheeses contain very little or no lactose, as most of it is drained off with the whey. Those with lactose intolerance should avoid ricotta, which is made from whey, as well as fresh cheeses like mozzarella and feta, where the whey is only partially drained.

Aged cheddars over six months old are safe, and aged hard cheeses like Parmesan, aged two years and up, are suitable for lactose-intolerant individuals, as the aging process eliminates much of the lactose. Similarly, cheeses like comté or other aged hard cheeses, aged at least six months (a year or more is even better), are a good choice.

Finally, the issue of cheese intolerance often has its origins, with fermentation starters initiating the curdling process. The type of starter culture used can influence your reaction. Finding cheeses with starters derived from the previous day’s milk – as opposed to those produced with selected starters – is much better, as it follows a more natural path. Homemade cheese involves a slower, less invasive production process and uses less salt as an additive and preservative. This is another reason to support small producers: not only do their cheeses taste better, but if they don’t use selected starters, their cheeses are also healthier.

I’m having guests for dinner: how much cheese should I buy?

The quantity of cheese you should buy depends on several factors. Will you be serving only cheese, or will the cheeses be part of multiple courses? Does everyone eat cheese? Generally, for a five-cheese platter, between 30 and 50 grams of each type of cheese per person is recommended. Your cheesemonger can guide you on portioning. If you’re opting for a single cheese, the weight should be between 100 and 200 grams per person. The golden rule for raclette and fondue falls between 200 and 300 grams per person.

However, like most things related to cheese, these are all approximate numbers. We prefer the motto “less is more.” It’s better not to overdo the quantity, as the leftover cheese may lose quality over time. Home fridges tend to dehydrate, and cool cellars – where cheese is optimally stored – are becoming less common.

Can I freeze cheese?

While some do, we generally prefer not to. However, if you have a large amount of hard cheese (like Parmesan or Gruyère) and want to preserve it for future cooking, grate the cheese and place it in a sealed plastic bag before freezing. Freezing fresh cheeses is an absolute no!

Can I eat the rinds?

Ask your cheesemonger, but typically the answer is yes. We don’t recommend gnawing on the rind of a Gouda, but most rinds are edible, even the hard ones, especially those of goat cheeses. It can get a bit tricky (hence why you should inquire) with cheeses like Double Barrel from Lincolnshire Poacher, which is covered with a material called “plasticote,” sealing the cheese, Dutch-style. It’s mostly a personal choice. We like nibbling a bit of the rind to experience the more subtle flavors: you can often detect the hints of the cellars and aging rooms where the cheeses matured.

Are the whitest cheeses the best?

No!

  • Cow’s milk: The color of cow’s milk cheese heavily depends on the animal’s diet. It’s typically yellow if the animal was grass-fed, and white if it was mainly given hay and many concentrates.

  • Sheep’s milk: The color of sheep’s milk cheeses is among the most variable. Sheep’s milk lacks beta-carotene, but other carotenoids like xanthophylls and lutein determine various shades of green. This can range from the ivory white of Pecorino Romano (as specified in the production guidelines) to intense yellow, almost brown, as seen in Fiore Sardo. The intensity of color can offer insights into the animals’ diet and the type of pastures they grazed on. The whiter the color, the more likely they were fed concentrates and less grass.

  • Goat’s milk: Similar to buffalo, our memory often recalls white pastes for this species. While goats directly convert beta-carotene to vitamin A, which doesn’t impart color, goat cheeses tend to be neutral white when from intensive farming. If from extensive farming, they come in various shades of gray. Historically, all cheeses were colored, even buffalo cheeses, which displayed subtle greenish-blue hues.

by the Editors, [email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

The photos in this article depict some of Mons and Neal’s Yard’scheeses. The article is partly based on the FAQs from La Fromagerie, which were graciously shared with us in 2019.

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