Reprinted from the September issue of Ink Magazine

True or False

Once cheese has been brought to room temperature, you should not refrigerate or use it again.

False. Cheese can be taken to room temperature and then refrigerated as many times as needed, until the cheese has been fully consumed.

A dry, crumbly cheddar is a sign of a poorly made young cheese.

False. Only aged cheddars become crumbly. The older the cheese is, the crumblier it will become. There is no such thing as a creamy sharp cheddar, when discussing natural cheeses.

A cheese with a small round tubular section missing is a sign of quality production.

True. Many cheeses destined for the highest quality are plugged for inspection and quality control. A plug is a small tubular sample from the cheese wheel. The process of plugging allows a cheesemaker to know when a cheese is done aging, without disturbing the entire wheel. Certain cheeses, such as Swiss Emmenthal, English Stilton and various cheddars, will be plugged for this purpose.

Did you know?

Is it okay to eat the rind on Parmigiano Reggiano cheese?

Yes. The rind is a natural product created by the aging and drying of this cheese. It is rather salty, due to the initial rubbing of salt over the exterior of the cheese at the start of the ripening process. This natural process helps to develop the rind. Many chefs will add Parmigiano Reggiano rinds to stocks, soups and stews for a pleasant, salty flavor. I recommend that you wash the outer part of the rind before use, as it has been handled along the way.

How long will cheese last?

Cheese will last much longer than you think, especially if you wrap your wedge in a new piece of cling wrap every time you open it. Cling wrap only clings well the first time, so re-using the same piece of wrap will cause a cheese to dry out, age and mold much faster. Fortunately, most cheese will develop an unpleasant taste before becoming unsuitable for eating.

Soft ripening and washed rind cheeses are exceptions in that they do not last as long as most other cheeses. These delicate varietals have a short shelf life and may last only a week or two, depending on the condition you purchased them in. Most other cheeses will last for weeks.

Can you freeze cheese?

Yes. You can freeze most cheeses. It is best to thaw frozen cheese in the refrigerator, and not at room temperature. Blue cheeses and goat cheeses freeze especially well; I often keep a piece of each frozen to grate on salads. The only cheese that does not freeze well is cheddar, which will become very grainy when thawed.

However, consider freezing cheese to be the exception, not the norm; it is always best to buy cheese fresh, as you need it.

Can you freeze unfinished fondue?

I have had great success in freezing leftover cheese fondue, including those times I have prepared too much shredded cheese to begin with. We have not noticed a difference in taste between fresh or frozen, provided the cheese was of good quality.

What is processed cheese?

Processed cheese melts one or more natural cheeses and combines the mixture with all sorts of ingredients, such as preservatives, oils, fruits, nuts, etc. The resulting product is then heated to a certain temperature to destroy all bacterial growth. Processed cheese need only be fifty-one percent cheese to be called cheese.

What is the difference between soft ripening cheese and washed rind cheese?

These two families of cheese are young and similar in many ways. Both cheeses mature very quickly, and both are shipped around thirty days old. Once over sixty days old, these cheeses become overripe and difficult to eat. Soft ripening cheeses use penicillium candidum to ripen, which produces a white, fluffy and snow-like mold. Washed rind cheeses use b. linen to ripen, which produces a more pungent, darker covering. Although similar, they are different enough to do well on the same cheese tray.

Which preserves cheese better – the new cheese paper or cling wrap?

The idea behind the new cheese paper is to wrap cheese in a way that allows it to breath and mature. However, it has been my experience that the success of this depends on what cheese is being wrapped and where that cheese is in the ripening process. If you have a young Camembert or Brie, for example, it is important to allow the penicillium candidum to continue to do its job of creating the snow-white mold that ripens and softens the cheese. This type of cheese needs air circulating around it to achieve this.

However, once a cheese is fully ripened, the cheese no longer needs to have air circulating around it. In addition, once a cheese has been cut from its wheel, it has lost much of its protective outer rind and up to 80% of its surface is now exposed. Your task at this point is to keep the exposed surface from drying out. This is when I find cling wrap works better.

What are the crystals found in certain cheeses?

The crystals found in certain cheeses are derived from an amino acid called tyrosine. As cheese ages and begins to dry, the tyrosine begins to crystalize, not only creating a slightly crunchy texture, but adding a sweet and salty taste as well. This is a sign of a quality, well-aged cheese. Examples of these types of cheeses are Dutch Kanaal, various well-aged Dutch goudas, aged cheddars and the more-aged versions of Swiss Gruyere and French Comté.

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