Spring is right around the corner so what comes to mind besides sunshine and warmer weather, but those two little words that we all shudder at “spring cleaning.”
Spring cleaning is not just for those cluttered closets though! In some states it is called a vegetable drawer, but for anyone who grew up in Wisconsin it is called the cheese drawer and your cheese drawer can also benefit from a little tender loving care. So how do you go about cleaning the space that houses your favorite food, and when is it time to bury those tasty little cheese bites that are wrapped up and long forgotten about in your refrigerator? These are questions I get asked almost daily at the cheese counter so lets tackle them head on!
When I am going to tackle my at home cheese drawer the first thing I like to do is to empty the drawer out completely. Then I wipe it down with a vinegar solution, and let it air dry. The vinegar will cut through any residue left behind by the cheeses you have stored in your drawer. But now onto the most important part…how to save the cheeses you once fell in love with, and are now a bit unsure of!
Whether or not you can save a cheese depends largely upon the type of cheese you are looking at. However, there are some telltale signs that a cheese is overripe, or close to being dead and may not be salvageable at all. You basically need to do two things to be successful at this. You need to be able to look at your cheese, smell it, and if you are feeling brave and like an overachiever then taste it, but for sure you must look at it and smell it.
- First of all, there will be a sharpness that is beyond the tantalizing tanginess of an expertly aged gouda or cheddar. This sharpness will border on or actually taste rancid, and there will be an overly pungent aroma.
- Secondly, washed rind cheeses will cling to their wrappers for dear life, which will cause them to swell, they may cave-in on themselves, and will become excessively runny.
- Thirdly, the texture of your cheese may change and a cheese that should be softened may become harder, drier, or runnier than is intended. A cheese may actually become gritty and dried out which is not a positive thing to have happen with the exception of Parmigiano Reggiano or a parmesan-type cheese where dry is a good thing.
- Finally, look at the mold growing on your cheese! If the outside of the cheese has black mold, or the inside has blue, green, or gray mold you need to move on and bury your cheese. The one exception here is blue cheese which will turn pink when it is past its prime.
Now, to salvage the cheese that is not dead I usually use a good knife, or my favorite cheese implement: the cheese planer. If you simply have some aged cheddar that has a little green or blue mold on the outside you can use a cheese planer or a knife to carve it away and you can still enjoy your little piece of cheese heaven. If you have a cut piece of soft-ripened cheese, and the white mold has grown over the sides feel free to just gently cut the sides off, let it sit to room temperature and enjoy your indulgence! Remember cheese is alive so mold is going to occur naturally. When you rewrap your new cheese bites wrap them in aluminum foil, waxed paper, or plastic wrap (my last resort) so that the cheese can breathe and develop without drying out.
As a general guideline concerning the longevity of cheese, you must remember at all times that cheese is alive. Therefore, a soft-ripened cheese like Explorateur should have a clean, white surface, but there will be a little mottling on the edges, and a slight ammonia smell at times because like it or not ammonia is a natural by product of this cheese. A washed-rind, surface-ripened cheese like Taleggio will be damp, slightly orange in color and free of cracks, but excessive mold growth and slight cracks can be stopped by gently rubbing it with salt water. A pressed cheese with a dry rind like Parmigiano Reggiano can be kept in good shape with a salt and olive oil paste rub or even just salt water. Many of these techniques are used in cheese shops, but you can also apply them to your cheese drawer at home on a smaller scale in an effort to keep your cheese happy. After all, no one likes to bury their beloved cheese bites especially when the sun is shining and spring is right around the corner!
Help Crystal earn her CCP at the American Cheese Society conference this summer. Vote for Crystal.