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Say Cheese

How to store cheese so it stays fresher longer
Photos: Tasting Table
Assorted Cheeses

Essayist and radio personality Clifton "Kip" Fadiman called cheese "milk's leap toward immortality." We wish. A good bite of cheese is a taste of the sublime, but its prime flavor is ephemeral, especially if it isn't stored properly.

"Once a cheese is cut, the clock is ticking," says Liz Thorpe, cheese expert, owner of The People's Cheese and author of The Cheese Chronicles (plus another in the works).

So how do you avoid feta-storage foibles and mozzarella-management mishaps? Just follow these tips from Thorpe and Walshe Birney, buying manager at Murray's Cheese in New York City.

Don't buy too much. Both Thorpe and Birney agree: It's better to buy smaller pieces of cheese more often. Then, Thorpe says, "Eat it quickly and don't get into the storage wars." Why? Most cheese is made in big wheels. Sometimes they're sealed in wax, which makes them incredibly stable, Birney says. Once you expose the cheese to oxygen, it starts to diminish in quality and freshness, he says.

Let it breathe. Despite what goes on in the dairy aisle, plastic isn't the ideal wrap for cheese. Instead, our experts say cheese is best stored in breathable paper or cheese bags. (Thorpe recommends you look for a cheese paper, which is sold at cheese stores and online.) In a pinch, Birney says parchment or wax paper will work. However, Thorpe says paper alone isn't always sufficient. She often double wraps delicate cheeses, such as bloomy or washed-rind cheeses like Brie, first in parchment paper then in plastic wrap. "Rinds are living things, and wrapping them tightly in plastic alone will smother and kill the rind."

Thorpe does like to keep some cheeses, such as cheddar, in a zip-top bag alone. But, she says, "Squeeze all the possible air out to improve your cheese's chances." Otherwise, Birney says, "Humidity will build, and the cheese will ammoniate." The same goes for a small plastic Tupperware.

Face your cheese. We get it. You're not always going to be able to get to a cheesemonger and get a hunk sliced fresh off the wheel. Sometimes you just gotta go for the shrink-wrapped grocery variety. That's okay, but know that the longer a cheese is wrapped in plastic, the more likely it is to taste like it. Improve the cheese's taste by "facing" it, Thorpe says. "Take the edge of a knife and scrape along the exposed face of the cheese to peel off the layer that's been next to the plastic."

You can also use this method to scrape mold off hard cheeses. "The cheese underneath is still good," she says. But don't try facing the mold off fresh cheeses with no rind, Thorpe warns. "Once you see green, blue or pink mold, it's done."

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Keep it cool—but never freezing. Both Birney and Thorpe advise storing your cheese (properly wrapped) in the vegetable drawer or the lowest part of your fridge, which is warmer and a bit more humid. And as tempting as it may be to freeze a delightful cheese you just have too much of, don't do it. "The freezing and unfreezing can cause the membrane of the fat molecules to burst and release their moisture, which causes off flavors and texture, from mozzarella up to cheddar and aged cheeses," Birney says.

And though you can keep some cheeses, especially hard ones, out at room temperature for a couple hours at most, don't store them that way. "It's just too warm, and the cheese will sweat out its butterfat, drying out in a few days," Thorpe says.

Remember, shelf life varies.
Just as there are hundreds upon hundreds of types of cheese—from bloomy to blue and fresh to firm—cheeses' ideal shelf lives vary considerably. Thorpe recommends the following general guidelines:

 Fresh (no rind): five to seven days, and these guys can't be faced
 Bloomy (Brie type): five to 10 days
 Washed rind (orange exterior): seven to 14 days.
 Semisoft to firm: two to three weeks (face before serving)
 Hard/dry: up to four weeks (face before serving)
 Blue: It really depends on moisture, Thorpe says. Soft, creamy blues like Gorgonzola Dolce last five to 10 days; drier, fudgy blues like Stilton last two to three weeks.

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