The cheeserati tell us to never wrap the pricey artisan Kentucky Rose or Humboldt Fog we've just bought in plastic wrap. But what's a cheese lover to do when the wedges come home in that plastic?
Some shops send their cheeses home wrapped in paper created just for the job. But is it really necessary? And what does it do?
Yes, says Mark Goldman, founder of Brooklyn-based Formaticum, maker of a specialty cheese paper, and it does more than keep cheese from drying out.
"Cheese is a pretty hearty food product when it's in its whole wheel," says Goldman. "Once that rind is broken, the cheese starts to absorb other types of flavors. Or molds that had a happy balance on the rind of cheese, it's new surface for them to colonize. Secondary growth on the (newly exposed) surface can change the flavor of the cheese."
Other problems that can occur in a badly stored cheese: When a cheese dries out, salt collects on the surface and crystallizes; the butter fat can separate out; and water can condense on the surface.
The paper most retailers use to wrap cheese is a butcher or freezer paper, says Goldman. The problem: Those papers "are not designed to regulate humidity or allow oxygen exchange, which are both critical for storing cheese properly," he says.
Formaticum paper, and others like it, are built to do the job. The paper features wax-coated paper on the outside, which allows an exchange of oxygen but prevents moisture from escaping, and a thin sheet of porous plastic on the inside, which wicks away any condensation that might build up on the cheese surface. That moisture is trapped between the layers, says Goldman.
"It's kind of like Gortex," says Goldman. "The two layers are working in concert to keep the cheese humidity in — to preserve the level of the humidity that is there. The inner layer wicks away any condensation which can cause surface mold growth."
Specialty cheese shops, such as Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine in Chicago, tend to use specialty cheese papers. Pastoral doesn't sell packages of specialty wrap because it already packages customers' freshly cut wedges in cheese paper for the trip home, according to senior buyer Lydia Burns, and that paper can be used for storage. The shop will sell extra sheets, though, if you want them.
If your cheesemonger doesn't wrap your purchases in specialty paper, though, you can buy your own. Look for Formaticum papers and bags at Eataly, 43 E. Ohio St., $8.80 for a box of 15 sheets or bags, and some Sur La Table and Crate & Barrel stores. Or for $9 at formaticum.com.