Illustrations by Erin Wallace
In the United States, it’s estimated we waste about 30 to 40 percent of our food supply. That results in billions of dollars of food wasted every year, and while not all of that food waste is on the personal level (it happens all across the supply chain), a great step to combating the problem starts at home. Despite our best efforts, even the most committed of turophiles can end up with uneaten cheeses. At some point, we’ve all been left with those small, hardened chunks that get pushed to the back of the cheese drawer. They sit there, often forgotten, until we guiltily fish them out wondering why we didn’t put them to better use. However, there’s no need to berate yourself or throw out these long-forgotten bits of cheese; there are plenty of ways to put old cheese to good use and we’ve rounded up three to get you started.
ODDS AND ENDS PESTO
Basil, spinach, arugula—you can make a green pesto with most leafy greens. (Even carrot tops make for an excellent zero-waste rendition!) The same goes for using up little bits of hard cheese. Pesto alla Genovese—from Italy’s Liguria region—is what we typically associate with this aromatic sauce comprised of basil, pine nuts, and parmesan. But you can make pesto with just about anything as long as you’ve got the basics: greens, nuts, and cheese, mixed with garlic cloves and olive oil. Any leftover bits of hard aged cheese will work—simply swap them into your favorite pesto recipe, or make up your own.
Turn a basic bowl of popcorn into a stunning culinary concoction by adding any finely grated cheese that’s past its prime. Comté, cheddar, parmesan, and even a dried-out blue cheese work great. Start by finely grating the cheese, since smaller pieces mean easier melting atop the popcorn. Once popped, drizzle popcorn with a little olive oil or melted butter, then add the cheese along with desired spices, like freshly ground pepper, oregano, cumin powder, red chili flakes, or even turmeric. Toss together and serve immediately.
Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Manchego—you can revive any of these cheeses with the help of some olive oil. Queso en aceite is an old Spanish method of curing cheese and it’s perfect for reviving leftover cheese bits. Trim the rinds off, cut into small pieces, and place in a jar along with any other herbs or spices you want to include, like rosemary, black peppercorns, za’atar, or citrus zest. Fill jar with olive oil, making sure no cheese pieces stick out, then seal and store in a cool, dark place, or your refrigerator. This method also works for softer cheeses, like feta, and even labneh can be preserved in olive oil. The key is to ensure that your cheese is completely submerged in the oil, otherwise it won’t cure properly.