Caring for Cheese + Storage Sins

How to keep your cheese in top shape until it’s time to devour!

by Elena Santogade

We’ve all been there. You buy a perfect-looking cheese at the store with all the right intentions: it’ll kickoff your upcoming dinner party, maybe help set the mood on an evening with your sweetheart. Then plans change. That dinner party turns into a night out on the town, or you have to work late on date night. A couple weeks later, you’re sorting through the fridge and you see it – the cheese!

Fear not! The self-doubt and guilt that normally sets in at that point can be a thing of the past. With these pro tips you can safeguard against cheese gone awry, salvage your purchase even when new mold starts to appear and have a clear understanding of how long different cheese styles can wait for you to dig in.

To Drawer or Not to Drawer?

Is that “cheese and meat” drawer really the best storage spot?

In! It’s clear that a cheesemonger wasn’t consulted on refrigerator design, because that meat and cheese drawer isn’t always the best place for your dairy gems to live. To keep your cheese in top shape until you’re ready to serve, you’ll want to put them in the coldest area of the fridge with the least temperature variability. Typically, your best bet will be the lowest spot in your fridge (heat rises, after all) and the furthest toward the back.

The Great Re-Wrap

What material best protects cheese?

Before we start talking cheese paper versus plastic, it’s important to note that the best environment for cheese is created by the rind itself. Cheese rinds protect the cheese from outside elements, lock moisture in and also allow the cheese to breathe. Since the cheese has active microbial activity – the good kind – it needs a way to give off a little gas here and there.

When storing cheese, you want to try to recreate the original environment of the cheese wheel before it was cut. (The cheese womb, so to speak.) Here are my top picks for cheese storage, in order of preference:

  1. Cheese paper. Though it might just look like fancy wax paper, cheese paper is actually incredibly high-tech! The construction of the paper is the closest thing to a cheese rind that you can get with a one-step wrapping method.
  2. Wax paper and aluminum foil alone aren’t quite moisture-retaining enough to do the job well, but wrapping your cheese with one in combination with a container or bag can be a great option. Wrap the cheese snugly in wax paper or foil, then place the wrapped cheese(s) in a container with the lid only partially closed or a bag that’s partially sealed. This protects the cheese from drying out, but also lets it breathe.

Ultimately, the option you want to avoid is plastic wrap. Plastic wrap suffocates the cheese, trapping too much moisture in and also trapping the natural gasses the cheese gives off. The result? At best, a less delectable version of the cheese you purchased. If you purchase a cheese wrapped in plastic, my suggestion is to open it up right when you get home, have a nibble, then re-wrap using one of the options above to better preserve the cheese.*

*One exception: when cheeses are packaged in more heavy-duty plastic (as is often the case with cheddar or jack cheese) it’s okay to leave as-is.

Good Gone Bad

What to do when things get weird

Even the best cheese plans can go awry. Let me be the first to say, there’s no shame in the occasional forgotten cheese – we’ve all been there! Most of the time, you can still salvage your purchase even if it has been sitting around for a bit too long.

If... Then...
You see unusual mold (most often blue or white) dotting your soft cheese… Remove the mold gently until the area looks as expected. Scrape or slice off the section and discard the moldy bits.
You see unusual mold (most often blue or white) dotted on your hard cheese… Rigorously scrape until it looks pristine again. If the piece is big and prettythoroughly covered in new [fridge] mold, feel free to slice off that full area until the cheese looks as expected.
After scraping that mold off, the cheese still doesn’t taste as good as it once did… Consider whipping up a batch of macaroni and cheese, or combine with a splash of white wine and garlic in a food processor to make your own homemade cheese spread.

In general, here’s my take on the “fridge life” of different cheese styles (the maximum time between purchase and serving to ensure your cheese still tastes fab):

  • Fresh cheese (chevre, ricotta, mozzarella): 3-5 days
  • Soft or semi-firm (brie-style, raclette): 1-2 weeks
  • Firm (cheddar, pepper jack): 2-3 weeks
  • Extra-aged (parmesan, romano-style): 1 month

Finally, don’t underestimate your own instincts! If the cheese tastes good to you, it’s probably fine to consume. If your senses tell you its time has come and gone, then it may be best to cut your losses and let that cheese go. My motto is “buy less cheese more often” – which means you’ll always enjoy peak freshness and get the most flavor for your buck!