Walking up to a cheese counter can be an overwhelming experience for a lot of people. There are so many varieties to choose from and the price tag for a small batch, handmade cheese can be steep. Below is a quick guide to buying, serving and storing great cheese. Hopefully it will help you get the most out of your selections and increase your enjoyment.
1. Try before you buy
The best way to buy cheese is from a reputable Cheesemonger. I know that word sounds funny. A cheesemonger sells cheese; but really the job is more complex than that. A cheesemonger acts as the liaison between the producer and the consumer, they tend to the cheese until it’s sold, and they advise and educate you so you can make the best choice possible. A true cheesemonger is passionate about cheese and should be able to recommend which cheeses pair well with which foods and wines. They always know which cheese is at its peak and in season. A good cheesemonger is knowledgeable and approachable and should always offer a taste. In other words, a good cheesemonger will forge a relationship with you, will learn your preferences and will happily share their passion. It is essentially an old fashioned way of shopping for food, but in a world of super sized box stores and impersonal grocery chains it can be a refreshing.
2. Pay attention to packaging
In a perfect world cheese is never pre-cut and wrapped in plastic wrap. The best cheese counters cut fresh to order off of larger wheels. When a piece of cheese sits wrapped in plastic it eventually takes on that plastic flavor. It is often difficult to assess how long that pre cut piece has been sitting there so you are often taking a chance that you will have a piece with off flavors.
3. Determining how much to buy
We recommend 1 ounce per person per cheese, assuming a selection of 3-5 cheeses. We find more than 5 selections are overwhelming. Depending on what type of party, or when the cheese will be served, will also dictate how much cheese is needed per guest.
Cheese is easy and quick to serve and with a few well chosen fruits and nuts a cheese plate can look very impressive.
1. Serve at the Proper Temperature
Cheese tastes best when it is at room temperature. Leave it out for about one hour before serving.
2. Variety is Key
Vary the textures and milk types. Pick cheeses made from the three main milk types: goat, cow and sheep and select cheeses that have different flavor profiles from mild to strong.
Seasonal fruit, dried fruits and nuts make great accompaniments to cheese. Chutneys and fruit preserves also complement cheese. One of our favorites is local honey paired with blue cheese. In addition cured meats can enhance any cheese platter. Serve thin slices of prosciutto, Serrano ham and sweet or spicy salamis, especially with aged cheeses like Pecorino and Manchego. Bread is a must and while a baguette always works, feel free to try other types like a grainy loaf with a cheddar or a fruit and nut studded boule with a goat cheese or brie.
The most important thing to remember is to only purchase enough cheese for a few days, then come back to see your monger for more. Cheese is expensive so why waste it? If you do have left overs here is the best way to store them:
When possible, reuse the cheese paper your cheesemonger wrapped it in. It protects but allows breathability. Purchase extra cheese paper. It extends shelf life by about a week. If you do not have cheese paper, then wrap in wax paper or parchment and place in a Ziploc bag. Store you cheese in the vegetable bin it's a bit warmer and moister than the rest of the fridge. NEVER FREEZE CHEESE. If properly stored, most cheeses will last several weeks. As a general rule, aged hard cheeses last longer than softer, fresher types.
Laura Downey, ACS, CCP (American Cheese Society, Certified Cheese Professional) is co-owner of Fairfield Cheese Company. 2090 Post Road Fairfield. 203.292.8194 www.fairfieldcheese.com