What happens when you store cheese in plastic wrap?
Good question! This is a hotly debated topic, and everyone has an opinion. I welcome the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the complexities of the answer.The effect that plastic wrap has on cheese varies depending on the type of cheese. The rind is the most important thing to consider. Bloomy rinds and washed rinds, both full of microbes going about their business of ripening the paste, are quite fragile and will have a tough time with plastic wrap. The wrap cuts off the precious oxygen supply these rinds need to be healthy. Long periods of time spent in plastic will kill off those friendly colonies, making the surface of the cheeses slimy and smelly—the wrong kind of smelly. The rind can become discolored, most noticeably a damp, rusty look on the bloomies.
Hard cheeses, rinded or not, can also suffer from plastic wrap due to light oxidation. The light that shines through discolors the paste and creates that nasty crayon-like off-flavor. That flavor is often blamed on the plastic itself, but I beg to differ. I chewed plastic wrap doing research for this article, both plain and heated up, and it is itself flavorless. No studies have been done on the interaction of the fat in the paste and plastic and whether that creates a bad flavor. The most obvious explanation to the conundrum of this dreaded off-flavor is light damage.
It is important to note that these things occur only with extended use of the plastic. While it’s not ideal, plastic remains the single most accessible answer to cheese storage. If you’re able to get it, cheese paper is a marvelous thing, offering oxygen access and reasonable moisture regulation for a short amount of time.
But the easy solution? Buy cheese in small quantities, often. Eat it and go buy more.
Special thanks to cheesemonger Liz Nerud of Kowalski’s for her answer!