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Plus, answers to all the other cheese questions you’ve had for many years.

Kimberly Holland
November 01, 2018

Cheese is a delight. Good cheese is a love language. Great cheese could, we suspect, bring peace to the world.

But cheese is a bit of an enigma. After all, cheese is typically made from four ingredients: milk, salt, enzymes, and bacteria or microbes. None of those things taste particularly great on their own.

The real magic is in how the cheesemaker uses those ingredients, plus a few clever cheesemaking techniques, to mold and shape the cheese into a delicacy unlike any other.

Seeing as we aren’t people to eat our cheese and drink our wine without asking questions (OK, maybe sometimes we are), we pondered on a few popular cheese-related questions—and found some rather interesting answers.

Why is goat cheese in vacuum-sealed packaging?

When you think of goat cheese or chevre, you likely see a petite log of soft white cheese. It’s fresh, creamy, and ever so delicately tangy. It’s also sealed to the point of suffocation in plastic wrap. It makes opening the chevre annoying, but, it turns out, it’s all to make sure you have a delicious cheese when you’re finally ready to eat it.

“Cryovac-ing cheese is a way of sealing the cheese so that it maintains freshness,” says Tasia Malakasis, cheesemaker and owner of Belle Chevre. “Chevre is a fresh cheese, meaning mostly that it has no age and is also ‘wet.’ When cheese ages, two things happen: It loses moisture, and the flavor develops or sharpens. You do not want this with a chevre.”

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Fresh chevre, left in the vacuum-sealed packaging can last up to two months. However, once you pop the plastic wrap, the clock is ticking. You need to eat your cheese within seven days for the best flavor. Also, remove the entire log of remaining cheese from the plastic, and store it in a small lidded plastic or glass container to keep it moist.

Why do some cheeses stink?

The scents of fine cheeses are sometimes more funky and unpleasant than endearing and comforting. Indeed, some of the best cheeses are, well, downright foul. That’s thanks to the cheese-making process.

When cheesemakers start the process, they add rennet or other enzymes to the cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk to separate the whey (the liquid) from the curds (the solids). When they’ve removed as much whey as they want, they then add pre-selected bacteria to the curds. These microbes help shape a cheese’s texture, taste, and yes, smell.

Each type creates unique and special properties, so cheesemakers choose their microbes carefully. Some bacteria can create a mushroomy, forest floor-like flavor. These bacteria might be ideal in a Brie or Camembert.

Another type is renowned for creating a sweet and salty flavor, as well as carbon dioxide, which creates holes as the cheese ripens. Those bacteria are commonly used in Emmental and similar Swiss cheeses.

A second factor, age, can play a key role in cheese stink. The longer a cheese ages, the more likely it is to develop an intense aroma.

Finally, some cheeses, like Taleggio, are washed during the cheese-making process. Washed rinds are important for keeping cheeses moist. The liquids that are used to wash the cheeses—commonly, beer, saltwater, brandy, or port—can also create distinct flavors and smells in the cheese.

Are all rinds edible?

Almost, but not entirely.

Wax rinds, like what you will find on Gouda, Manchego, and some cheddars, are not edible. Don’t even try it.

Almost everything else is edible, even if you can’t (or don’t want to) eat them.

Most cheese rinds are naturally occuring as part of the cheese-making process. They form from a mixture of molds and yeasts on the outside of the cheese, and they harden as the cheese sits. Others may be made from compressed curds that are added to give cheese its shape. All rinds end up protecting the cheese from the environment and keep it nice and moist.

Some rinds are tough and thick. They can develop tufts of mold or patches of furry growths. Rinds may also have an extremely concentrated flavor. That doesn’t mean they’re not edible. They just might not be too tasty. Indeed, some can be quite overwhelming. Eating rinds is often a matter of preference.

Use those rinds in dishes like soups and stews to add flavor without adding creaminess from the cheese itself. Parmesan and Pecorino are great for vegetable or tomato soups, for example.

Can I leave my cheese wrapped in the plastic from the store?

You can, but you shouldn’t.

Cheese is a living organism. Unlike say, your clamshell of mixed greens, cheese continues to ripen, so you don’t want to choke off all the air. Instead, you should allow moisture and oxygen to reach the cheese—but not too much.

The best way to protect your cheese is to wrap it properly before you put it into your refrigerator. That starts by asking the cheesemonger at your store to wrap it in wax or parchment paper if they have it. If they don’t, do it yourself as soon as you get home. Then, loosely wrap the cheese in plastic wrap. Next, put the cheese in a wooden box or plastic container with a lid.

If you have a particularly stinky cheese—we’re looking at you Époisses—keep it in a separate container from your other cheeses. You don’t want the scent to invade your porous cheeses.

Check your cheese often. If it’s too soggy or wet, it needs more air. Take it out of the plastic container or wrappings. If it’s too dry, gently wrap the cheese in a damp, clean cloth.

Of course, cheeses, once they’re cut from the block, do not last long. Their protective shield (the rind) can’t keep air from reaching them now, so it’s better to eat your prized chevres as soon as you can.

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