It is a common misconception – even among top chefs and foodservice professionals – that all cheese is alike and can be treated as such. The truth is every cheese is unique, and how you handle and store it greatly affects its overall flavor and quality.
The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and Wisconsin cheesemakers developed guidelines and recommendations for the proper storage of different cheese varieties. These simple rules for cheese storage and handling will help maximize the shelf life of your cheeses, while maintaining and enhancing its flavor.
Cheese Handling – Clean, Cold and Covered
When you receive a new shipment of cheese, take a few minutes to examine the package, paying close attention to the wrapping and temperature. You should never accept cheese that has torn or careless wrapping or an interior temperature above 45 degrees Fahrenheit. If either condition occurs during shipping, the quality and safety of the cheese could be compromised. After inspecting and accepting the shipment, refrigerate the cheese as soon as possible.
Designate a cheese storage location in your refrigerator or cooler that is free from strongly aromatic foods because the cheese may absorb the aromas while “breathing.”
Avoid cross-contamination of cheese flavors by always using a different knife and cutting board to cut different types of cheeses, or simply clean knives and boards in between cuttings. Always re-wrap cheese that has been handled with new, clean wrapping.
Good sanitation practices are important for any food product, but especially for cheese because natural cheese is a living food that remains biologically active. Follow these sanitation guidelines to help maintain cheese quality and eliminate cross contamination:
- Wash your hands with soap and water before handling cheese.
- Clean your work area and tools with sanitizing solution. The solution should not come in direct contact with food; allow it to evaporate on work surfaces and tools.
- Wipe the surface of naturally bandaged cheese, cheeses with rinds and waxed cheeses with a cleaning solution (brine) prior to cutting.
- Cover cutting boards with plastic wrap, waxed paper or parchment before trimming cheeses with mold or cutting waxed cheeses.
- In general, if you find mold, use a clean knife to trim the mold about 1 to 2-inches from the rest of the cheese and discard.
Cheese Storage – The Necessary Tools
Every cheese has unique characteristics that require different types of storage for optimum shelf life and flavor. Stock your kitchen with the following storage accessories:
- Parchment paper
- Wax paper
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic wrap
- Clean towels
- Cheese dome
- Clean cutting boards
- Two types of plastic storage containers: one with holes (to promote air circulation), and one without holes
The rindless cheese category includes both fresh cheeses such as Mascarpone, Fresh Mozzarella, Queso Blanco, Ricotta, Chevre and Feta, as well as semi-soft cheeses such as Muenster, Havarti, Cheddar, Colby, Baby Swiss, Swiss, Farmers, Fontina, Monterey Jack and Queso Quesadilla.
Fresh, rindless cheeses should be stored at 35 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cheese is purchased in a plastic container, continue to cover it tightly in storage to avoid flavor absorption from other foods. Chevre, however, should first be wrapped in parchment paper or foil, and then stored in a tightly sealed plastic container. Feta keeps best when stored in a salt brine bath in a tightly sealed plastic container. If you find mold on a fresh, rindless cheese, discard the entire product.
Stored semi-soft, rindless cheese at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut cheese should be wrapped in parmchment or waxed paper first and then again in plastic wrap, or simply stored wrapped only in plastic wrap to help retain moisture.
Natural Rind Cheese
The natural rind category includes semi-hard and hard grating cheeses such as Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, GranQueso, Aged Provolone and Kasseri. Store natural rind cheeses at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss. The plastic wrap may impart a slightly “plastic” flavor to the cheese, if this occurs, simply scrape the surface to remove the flavor before serving.
Washed Rind Cheese
A washed rind cheese is bathed regularly by hand during aging with a bacterial solution to promote ripening and flavor development. Examples of washed rind cheeses include Gruyère, Limburger, Raclette, Butterkäse, Italian-style Fontina, Brick, German (Aged) Brick and Wisconsin originals such as Knight’s Vail, Les Fréres, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Italico™.
Store washed rind cheese at 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit at an elevated humidity of 65 percent. After washed rind cheese is cut, wrap it in waxed or parchment paper and place it in a plastic container pierced with several holes to allow air circulation. If the cheese appears to be drying out, place a clean, slightly damp towel (paper towel is fine) in the bottom of the container to elevate the humidity. If the cheese begins to smell ammoniated, remove it from the container and let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator or on a clean counter. Once the odor is no longer present, rewrap the cheese in clean paper and refrigerate. If the odor persists after 2 to 3 hours, discard the cheese.
Bloomy Rind Cheese
Bloomy rind cheeses include Camembert, Brie and some Chevres. Store bloomy rind cheese at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit at an elevated humidity level. After bloomy rind cheese is cut, place a thin piece of parchment paper over the exposed area and use the original wrapping to cover the cheese. Or, store the unwrapped cheese in a sealed plastic container pierced with a few holes for air circulation. Place a clean, slightly damp towel in the bottom of the container to elevate the humidity.
The blue-veined cheese category includes Blue Cheese and firm or Italian-style Gorgonzola. Store blue-veined cheese at 40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit at elevated humidity levels. The cheese should be wrapped in aluminum foil, preferably the original foil you receive the cheese in. Finding mold on a blue-veined cheese is usually a good thing. However, if the mold appears black and slimy, discard the entire piece.
The storage information discussed here is available in a convenient set of laminated note cards. The cards cover basic cheese handling and storage information for all cheese categories, along with helpful cheese cutting charts and sanitation information. To order a complete set of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board’s “Cheese Storage Tips for Foodservice Professionals,” visit foodservice.WisDairy.com.