~ For the LOVE of Cheese: PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)! ~
Blessed are the cheesemakers. They make hard, dry, grating cheeses; firm, moist, sliceable cheeses, and; soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses. They make blue, white and yellow cheeses. Some cheeses are aged for years, others for a few months, and, some aren't aged at all. They make herby, spicy, fruity and/or nutty cheeses. They make mild, aromatic and strong, stinky cheeses. They make cheese from the milk of cows, goats and sheep -- sometimes it's pasteurized and sometimes it's not. There are a thousand+ varieties of cheese in this food world -- some are mass produced, some are specialty, some are artisan and some are farmstead. There are cheese societies that come up with cheese standards and government organizations that enforce cheese laws. Yes, thanks to the cheesemakers, we live in a very cheeesy world!
I'm not here (at least not today) to explain the many different types of cheese, tell you where to buy your cheese, what kind of cheese to choose, what time of year to buy it, what time of day to eat it, what temperature to serve it at, what to serve it with, or, what to drink with it:
I'm here to explain what to use to correctly "cut the cheese"!
There are only two reasons to cut cheese: to serve & eat it and/or to wrap & store it.
Let's explore the wrapping and storing cheese first:
All cheese needs to be stored, even if it is just for the short trip from the cheesemonger's to your kitchen, and there are right and wrong ways to do it. Once you get it home, unless you are going to eat it immediately, it needs to be stored in the warmest part of your refrigerator (the top of the vegetable bin works great). There will be no discussion about freezing cheese on this post except to say: do not freeze your cheese. Except for certain processed cheesefeed products (like cheese that squirts out of can and pours out of jars), cheese is a living organism. It needs to breathe. Once upon a time, the most common way to store cheese was to wrap it in tightly woven cloths that had had been doused with vinegar then wrung dry. This allowed the cheese to breathe without drying out. A few purists may still do it this way, but I don't know these people.
For practical purposes, we must take a look at what wrappings most of us have on hand in our home kitchens. For me, the list includes: aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper and waxed paper, along with zip lock bags. Here is a quick overview of my thoughts on all of them:
Aluminum foil and plastic wrap: I put both of these in the same category because they are both airtight wrappings, which is ok if you just want to store cheese for a short period of time, 1-3 days. Why? Neither allow enough of the gasses or moisture to escape (although aluminum foil does allow more than plastic wrap), which causes cheese to develop mold at a faster than normal pace (all cheese grows mold eventually). In the case of soft cheeses (like blues or chevre), plastic causes the cheese to get sticky and disgusting, alumium foil does not, so, I use foil for them for short-term storage. For hard cheeses (like Asiago and Parmesan) and semi-hard cheeses (like Cheddar and Swiss), I find that either works fine. Purists will argue that plastic wrap imparts a flavor into the the cheese, but, quite frankly, I'm not convinced of that and consider it a non-issue, so, plastic wrap it is for them in my kitchen.
Parchment paper and waxed paper: I put these in the same category because they are both semi-airtight wrappings which give the cheese both air and room to breathe, which slows down the growth of mold, which in turn allows you to keep your cheese in edible condition for a longer period of time, 4-7 days (depending upon the cheese). Parchment paper and wax paper work great for any type of cheese, but, you still have to prevent the cheese from drying out, so: parchment paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for hard, dry grating cheeses. Wax paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for firm, moist sliceable cheeses. One other thing I should mention: brined cheeses (like fresh mozzarella and feta) require no wrapping and should be stored, in their brine, in an appropriately-sized food storage container with the lid on -- many times the container they came packaged in is just fine.
Formaticum cheese bags and papers: Perhaps "my cheese has slid off my cracker" (I know I am getting older), but, I used to refer to "this stuff" as French cheese paper. At our local Wegmans, they sell sheets of it at a reasonable price. French cheese paper (now marketed by and as Formaticum, is a two-ply material designed to maintain optimal humidity, while not allowing water to accumulate, thus preventing the growth of surface molds. The outer layer, which usually has logos on it to let you know it is the outside, is thin paper. The inner layer is a thin sheath of plastic containing microscopic holes. This paper is amazing: it allows the gasses and moisture to escape without allowing the cheese to dry out. No other wrapping is necessary (although you can place the wrapped cheese, several different kinds, each individually wrapped in Formaticum, in one open zip-lock bag for a bit of added protection.
In the end, how and what you wrap your cheese with is your choice, but, it is necessary to change the wrapping every few days, as well as, each time you unwrap it to slice and serve.
Now it's time to explore gadgets for grating and slicing:
Cheese can be cut into any thickness you want, but, the general rule is to follow the shape of the cheese. For instance, for small wheels, discs, pyramids or squares, position the knife in the center and cut down and around it into equal-sized wedges. Rectangular or cylindrical logs of cheese can be sliced into squares or discs. Block shape cheeses can be cut into cheese sticks or cheese cubes. To slice wedge shaped cheese, cut the large wedge in half lengthwise (thick side to point side), then slice into smaller, thinner wedges. It is cheese -- not rocket science!
Cheese graters: There are all sorts of devices for grating cheese on the market, and, they are all a matter of personal preference. When it comes to the actual grating of cheese, there is only one rule:
The softer the cheese, the coarser the grater/the harder the cheese, the finer the grater.
I must mention that for large quatities of many types of cheese, the food processor is a big time saver. Simply chop hard, dry grating cheese into chunks, place them in the workbowl and process using a series of rapid on-off pulses. Via special slicing discs (mine came with my processor), firm, moist, sliceable cheeses may be quickly grated too!
Wire Cheese Slicers: Wire cheese slicers are by far my favorite gadgets of the cheese world. Any gadget with a taught wire will cut almost any cheese (except for hard, dry, grating cheeses) neatly and cleanly. Depending upon the length of the wire, it will cleanly cut everything from a 4-ounce wedge to 5-pound block. Note: In the upper left is an Italian mozzarella slicer - an ordinary egg slicer (just below it) works well for smaller-sized mozzarella. In the upper right is a vintage butter slicer - it's perfect for small blocks of cheddar and logs of chevre!
Cheese Knives: I know that if I lined up every cheese knife I own, tips-to-handles, they would circle the globe. This is a small sampling. I've got got 'em in gold, chrome, stainless steel, silver and pewter -- I especially love the Chinese set with the enameled handles. They are all designed to do specific tasks. For instance, the small open-blade knife in the upper right is for slicing soft cheeses like Brie. What about those two large "plastic" looking knives? Marketed as "The Cheese Knife", it comes in three sizes, and, the handle is designed to leave sliced cheese on the plate, not stuck to the knife -- and it works!
The season for wine and cheese is upon us, so, look sharp!
To get my recipe for ~ Bejeweled Brie Torte ~, click into Categories 1, 11, 18, 20 or 21:
For the LOVE of Cheese PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)!: Recipe yields tips for wrapping and storing all types of cheese, along with receommendations for gadgets to successfully grate and slice all types of cheese.
Special Equipment List: aluminum foil; plastic wrap; parchment paper; wax paper; French cheese papers; Formaticum cheese paper; cheese graters; cheese wires; cheese knives
Cook's Note: For another one of my cheese lovin' posts, also perfect for any wine and cheese celebration, check out my post ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~. The recipe is in Categories 1, 11, 20 & 26!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)