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.
Cheesemongering is a relatively new profession in the United States but a time-honored one in Europe.Steve Jones is the 2011 Cheesemonger Invitational champion. He has worked in cheese for some 15 years and owns the Cheese Bar in Portland, Ore.
LRK: Should your cheese be wrapped? Should it be plastic-wrapped?
SJ: We highly recommend that every piece of cheese that leaves my shop leaves in perforated cheese paper. There’s one out there that consumers can buy from a brand called Formaticum. It’s a French-made paper that’s dynamite. It works really well; it’ll add a ton of life to your cheese. It allows the cheese to continue to breathe without it suffocating and without all that moisture being stuck inside. It will about double the life of your cheese.
There’s nothing worse than treating yourself to an expensive piece of cheese, then having to toss it in the trash a couple days later because it’s hardened or gotten moldy. The fact is, since it requires striking a delicate balance between moisture and air exposure, keeping cheese fresh in the refrigerator is tricky. Unless, of course, you’ve got Formaticum Cheese Bags, which keep your cheese fresh far longer than any other homemade wrappings do.
Gadget name: Formaticum Cheese Bags
Price: $9 for 15 bags
How it’s supposed to work: As cheese releases moisture, tight wrapping encourage mold, while loose ones let it dry out and harden. These bags’ two-ply material—wax-coated paper lined with thin, porous polyethylene plastic—allows moisture to wick off the cheese but not escape entirely.
How we tested it: We wrapped brie, goat cheese, and cheddar in the cheese bags and in a homemade double-wrapped combination of parchment and foil, which we’ve found works better than wrapping cheese in the usual plastic wrap or bag. Then we put both sets of samples in the refrigerator and checked on them every other day for a month.
How it actually works: This product worked for a solid two weeks longer than our homemade wrap.
Good to know: Formaticum also makes Cheese Paper, which uses the same material to keep cheese fresh. In our head-to-head testing, the Cheese Bags edged out the paper for their convenient fold-and-refrigerate convenience that doesn’t require you to seal them with stickers.
My favorite part: When you open and reclose the package, they don’t fall apart or rip like homemade wrappers.
Best for: The cheesehead who doesn’t want to eat an entire chunk of fancy cheese in one sitting.
Overall: It’s a great investment in keeping cheese fresher longer.
Keeping cheese fresh in the refrigerator is tricky. As cheese releases moisture, tight wrappings encourage mold; loose ones let it dry out and harden. But one cheese-wrap outfitter uses a two-ply material—wax-coated paper lined with thin, porous polyethylene plastic—in both its Cheese Paper ($9 for 15 sheets with stickers) and Cheese Bags ($9 for 15 bags). This combination (often used by professional cheesemongers) has a salutary effect, allowing moisture to wick off the cheese but not escape entirely. We wrapped cheddar, Brie, and goat cheese in both the paper and the bags, put them in the refrigerator, and checked on them every other day for a month. Both products kept all cheese types pristine for two weeks longer than identical samples that we double-wrapped with parchment and aluminum foil. Slightly more convenient to use than the cheese paper, the bags didn’t need to be sealed with stickers: Just fold over the ends a few times to close.
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