Category Archives: Cheeses

At-Home Cheese Storage

At-Home Cheese Storage

One of the most common cheese questions people ask me is: how do you store cheese at home?

My answer: I don’t.

I try to buy only what I’m going to be able to use immediately. Dave and I can easily put down 1/4 lb to 1/2 lb in a single sitting, so I don’t often have leftovers. However, I know that most people practice something called moderation, which we still haven’t gotten the hang of. So, if you want to keep leftover cheese fresh at home, here are my tips:

Don’t wrap it directly in plastic

Cheese is a living thing; it needs air. You wouldn’t want to be smothered in Saran-Wrap, would you? While you’ll often see large hunks wrapped in plastic in cheese shops, those cheeses are unbundled multiple times per day, giving the cheese a chance to breathe. If you aren’t doing the same at home (and who is?), avoid the plastic as a first barrier.

Instead, use wax paper

First wrap your cheese in wax paper, which is more permeable. Secure with scotch or masking tape, if necessary. Then wrap the package in a loose outer layer of plastic or put it in a Ziploc bag so that it doesn’t dry out.

Keep in the vegetable drawer or a lidded container

The vegetable drawer is usually slightly more moist than the rest of the refrigerator, creating a happy home for most cheeses. If you don’t have space for cheese here, you can also keep it in a lidded container, which protects your precious cargo from taking on weird flavors from the rest of your fridge. You can keep different types of cheese together but you might want to consider isolating really stinky cheeses or blues.

Ewephoria

Ewephoria

  • Milk type: Pasteurized sheep
  • Style: Gouda
  • Made in: Holland
  • Purchased at: Murray’s
  • Price: $19.99/lb
  • Try pairing with: Cabernet or Porter

When I purchased Ewephoria, the cheesemonger told me she thinks the flavor includes a hint of marshmallow. As bizarre as that sounds, I have to agree.

Ewephoria, as the punny name suggests, is made from pasteurized sheep’s milk in Holland. The distributor claims that it comes from a small sheep farm where the animals get plenty of sunshine, fresh grass and clean air. The local soil is reclaimed mineral rich ocean clay, which allegedly provides for an exceptionally creamy milk.

I’ve never heard a cheese maker say that its milk comes from extremely pissed-off animals who would rather be frolicking in the wilderness, but I will concede that this cheese is sweet and pretty creamy.

The piece in the photo above was aged for four months, giving the cheese a rubbery texture with a mellow sweetness that gets a bit more nutty closer to the rind.

However, there’s also a version that’s aged between six and nine months. The longer maturation time results in a crunchier texture and a nuttier, more butterscotch taste.

I’m normally in the cheese-as-appetizer camp, but Ewephoria’s sweetness would also make it work well as a dessert. (Try serving it with some grapes.) And if you’re a post-dinner aperitif kind of person, Murray’s suggests pairing it with a glass of sherry. 

GranQueso

Gran Queso

  • Milk type: Pasteurized cow
  • Style: Semi-firm
  • Made in: Wisconsin
  • Purchased at: Union Market
  • Price: $13.99/lb
  • Try pairing with: Tempranillo

The Monroe, Wisconsin dairy that makes GranQueso says it was inspired by Spanish cheese. It must be loose inspiration, cause the only thing that seems Spanish to me is its name. No matter. They could use Justin Bieber as a muse and this cheese would still have a place in my kitchen.

GranQueso, produced by Emmi Roth USA, is made with pasteurized cow’s milk, giving it a golden ivory paste. Its basket-weave rind is rubbed with a blend of spices including cinnamon and paprika, resulting in an attractive reddish-orange color, but little influence on the actual taste of the cheese.

GranQueso Basketweave Rind

The cheese has a dense, nutty flavor that’s also salty, with a bit of tang. Let it sit out a while and you’ll see that it weeps little droplets of fat, giving it a nice oily sheen. GranQueso is a terrific table cheese, easily eaten by itself. If you’d like to provide an accompaniment, this cheese could benefit from a little dab of quince paste.

When pairing with wine, I’d suggest a full-bodied red, like a Spanish Tempranillo. But if beer is more your style, the cheesemaker advocates going with a wheat beer or hard cider. Both sound great to me for a picnic as the weather finally gets warmer.

Cheese Board

A Dinner Party Cheese Board

Last month I wrote about how I was going to focus on putting effort into cheese presentation rather than slinging a few hunks on a board and calling it a day. I haven’t completely cleaned up my act yet, but I think this arrangement for a recent dinner party hosted by my sister turned out pretty well.

Here’s what’s on the board (clockwise from the top):

Cheese Board

  • Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche — goat’s milk

(That beautiful color comes from soft ripening with tree ash.)

  • The Savannah Bee Company Cheese Honey

(My current go-to honey.)

  • Lazy Lady Farm Oh My Heart — cow’s milk

(A Brie-style only available from Sept. through April.)

  • Raspberries
  • Cypress Grove Chèvre Lamb Chopper — sheep’s milk

(A mild cheese perfect for people who don’t think they like sheep’s milk cheese.)

  • Piave — cow’s milk

(Similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but more of a table cheese. This is one of my favorites for pregnant women as it’s aged, pasteurized and delicious.)

  • English cheddar — cow’s milk

(Even the least adventurous eaters are willing to eat cheddar, so I always include one in every assortment I serve.)

Salemville Amish Gorgonzola Cheese Crumbles

Blue Cheese Taste Test

There are very few people who are ambivalent toward blue cheese. Most either really love it or really hate it.

As you might guess, I’m firmly in the love camp. I could easily scarf down a quarter pound of Bleu D’Auvergne simply smeared on a baguette for lunch. I also view a container of blue cheese crumbles as a refrigerator staple — perfect for jazzing up a green salad or for melting in dips.

Most supermarkets these days carry a couple of different brands of pre-crumbled blue, of course begging the question — which is the best?

Cooking Light magazine put 8 pre-crumbled blues and 5 pre-crumbled Gorgonzolas through a blind taste test in its April edition. Here are the winners:

Cooking Light
Photo: Randy Mayor via Cooking Light

 

Favorite Blue: Whole Foods Market Blue Cheese Crumbles

The magazine dubs this one a “big, bold blue.” While a little goes a long way, “it’s balanced and versatile enough to top anything from veggie tarts to steaks,” Cooking Light says.

I have to agree. This is the brand that I most often reach for, and which I used in my Blue Cheese Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe.

Favorite Gorgonzola: Salemville Amish Gorgonzola Cheese Crumbles

“A wonderfully creamy Gorgonzola with full-on flavor and enticing salt crystals,” Cooking Light declares. “It’s moderately pungent and nutty, yet slightly sweet.”

What makes this brand interesting is that its cheeses are produced by an Amish community in Wisconsin. The cows are hand-milked twice a day without the use of machines or electricity. I’ve never seen Salemville offered in my local grocery store, but Target carries it. I’m definitely going to look for the crumbles the next time I’m there.

Click here for Cooking Light’s full story.

A Soft Cheese Hiatus

I’ve never been happier than the day I found out I was pregnant. Still, when my doctor issued a moratorium on soft cheese, I was barely able to make it out of his office before I started to cry. 

Yes, perching on the edge of a flowerbed on 83rd Street while blubbering over my inability to eat my favorite cheeses seems somewhat dramatic in hindsight. I’ll give you that. In my defense, my hormones were completely out of whack and I had just been thrown a major curveball.

“But the FDA says it’s ok,” I kept repeating as Dave patted my back and kindly tried not to look at his watch.

The concern over cheese during pregnancy is due to possible contamination by listeria, a type of bacteria that may be found in refrigerated deli meats or foods made with unpasteurized milk. Outbreaks of listeriosis are rare. Nationwide, only 1,651 cases were reported between 2009 and 2011, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, pregnant women are advised to be vigilant in avoiding potentially contaminated foods because listeria can have devastating effects on a fetus, including miscarriage, stillbirth, mental retardation or paralysis. The scariest part is that in most cases, people who become infected never feel sick. If they do, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear.

To prevent an infection, the Food and Drug Administration advises pregnant women not to eat soft cheeses like feta, brie and camembert, blue-veined cheeses, or queso blanco, queso fresco, or panela, unless they’re made with milk that has been pasteurized, a process that uses heat to kill harmful bacteria.

My doctor is even more conservative, banning all soft cheeses even if they are pasteurized. Mold-ripened and blue-veined cheeses are moister and less acidic than harder, aged cheeses, providing an ideal environment for listeria to grow if the cheese is contaminated after the pasteurization process, for instance, during aging or shipping. My doctor doesn’t want his patients to take the risk, a stance which I do understand but which pains me nonetheless.

Yet, he and the FDA are in total agreement when it comes to cheeses made with unpasteurized, or raw, milk — they are deemed completely off limits for pregnant women.

While there’s a common misconception that all cheese made in the U.S. is pasteurized, in fact, many artisan and farmstead cheeses are made with raw milk. Cheesemakers often argue that raw milk produces a more complex cheese with more intense flavor than pasteurized varieties. I tend to agree. The FDA simply requires that cheese made with raw milk be aged for at least 60 days before it is considered safe to eat.

Several times throughout the course of my pregnancy, I’ve received a lecture when approaching a cheese counter with a request for a sample of something both hard and pasteurized. Cheesemongers often believe that raw milk cheeses have been aged long enough that the acids and salt in the cheese naturally kill any harmful bacteria like listeria. They’re not alone. The U.K.’s health safety agency deems hard cheeses like cheddar, emmental, gouda, gruyere, parmesan and stilton as completely safe for pregnant women even if they are unpasteurized.

So, where does all of this conflicting information leave a pregnant woman? Completely confused.

If left to my own devices, I would probably eat every cheese I wanted to. After all, I’ve been eating a truly massive amount of soft and raw cheese for well over a decade and have never contracted listeria. But I’m not a medical professional, so I’m going to play it safe and listen to someone who is.

When I get a hankering for soft cheese that just won’t go away, I make a baked camembert or goat cheese (those recipes will be posted soon). Heating the cheese till it steams eliminates the risk of bacteria and satisfies my cravings.

My advice to pregnant women is to ask your doctor what he or she feels comfortable with you eating. Then completely ignore the well-meaning friends, family, cheesemongers or waiters who want to share their opinions or who inevitably point out that pregnant French women have been eating all sorts of cheese for centuries.

A side note: I am thrilled to say that I have a mere six weeks to go before I have both a daughter and free rein to eat whatever gooey, stinky, raw cheese I want. (Of course, I already have a list of cheese that I expect my sister to bring straight to the hospital when I give birth.)

Until then, I’ll mainly be profiling the hard, pasteurized cheeses allowed by my doctor. Any raw or soft cheese that I’ve written about up until this point is one that I sampled pre-pregnancy. I’ve kept a very detailed cheese-tasting diary for quite some time and have relied upon that for any descriptions of temporarily-forbidden cheeses.