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Storing Cheese

10906 Storing Cheese

This is a question we are asked frequently – how should you store cheese?

The best place to store cheese is in your stomach. Can’t recall where I heard that one. Years ago when we installed the first cheese “cave” in a restaurant in the United States we did a little homework before designing it. We learned that cheese keeps better in a cool, damp space with a little ventilation (very much like an actual cave). We also learned that cheese keeps better on wooden planks, preferably birch wood that is harvested when the moon is full.

That cave that was installed into what had been a small walk-in closet adjoining the restaurant’s office worked very well. I called that cave “my office.” We kept the temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and we were able to keep the relative humidity levels up around 85%. Although the cave was just a little drafty, the overall conditions in the cave were otherwise close to perfect for storing the cheeses.

Because we were a little concerned about what the Health Department inspectors might say about wooden shelves, we opted for marble ones instead. They were easy to clean but the smooth flat surface of those shelves did not allow enough air exchange underneath the cheeses, the way that the wood would have. Besides flipping the cheeses on a regular basis to keep the moisture and fat levels evenly distributed through the body of the individual cheeses, we also set the cheeses on top of little strips of wood that came from the boxes in which the cheeses were shipped. This worked well.

When the humidity levels dropped down during the winter months, we sprayed down the ceramic walls of the cave with water, sometimes more than once a day. The porous walls helped to retain the moisture levels better. Another thing that worked exceedingly well was to keep the cave well stocked. This is one reason why I recommend that a restaurant’s cheese cave be a small one. The cheeses themselves helped to provide the higher humidity levels. There is only so much cheese that a restaurant can move through, even one that is considered to be a cheese destination type of a restaurant such as that one, so I recommend that cheese caves be designed small.

For the individual who wants to maintain their cheeses in optimal conditions I recommend that they purchase less cheese but that they purchase it often. They should certainly incorporate a little cheese into their meal plans each day. When you have leftover cheese I suggest that it be wrapped in the kind of paper in which we ship the cheeses. This kind of paper can be reused – the paper in which your artisanal cheeses arrive. After wrapping the cheeses in this paper you can drop them into a Ziploc bag. This gives the cheeses their own little microcosm where they will dry out less quickly, and they won’t pick up other aromas and flavors as readily.

I keep my leftover cheeses this way and it works quite well. This is not actual “Affinage” – the skill of ripening and elevating a cheese, but it is good cheese maintenance. For a solid understanding of “Affinage” you can learn a lot in our Mastering Cheese Intensive class. We offer this class about 4 times each year; and we keep the classes limited to small enrollments so that we can spend more time with each of the students. The students get to practice some of the several tasks that an “Affineur” actually does – a very “hands-on” cheese experience. The series also involves eating a lot of cheese during those three days. One of the best ways to learn about cheese is to eat it, and to try it alongside other cheeses, and to try it alongside various wines. This is part of the series too – cheese and wine.

Back to the storage question: cheese can actually put up with quite a lot of abuse. It happens to taste much better if you give it a little TLC. We should remember that cheese is a “living” food.

Spread the curd!
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