Cheese storage challenge

Wrapping how-tos, plus Jacques Pepin's recipe for any leftover bits

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Q: I want to know the best way to store cheese...soft cheeses, hard cheeses, etc..Every time I open up the cheese after getting it at the store, I can't wrap it the way they do and it ends up in a Ziploc bag. And can you freeze most cheeses or does it ruin taste/texture?

--Sweety P. Agrawal, Chicago

A: Special "cheese paper" works best, says Greg O'Neill, president of the American Cheese Society, a Denver-based trade group, and co-owner and co-founder of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine (three locations: 2945 N. Broadway St., 53 E. Lake St., Chicago French Market at 131 N. Clinton St.) and Bar Pastoral (2947 N. Broadway St.), all in Chicago. This paper allows for a certain amount of breathing room for stored cheeses, he says.

Clark Wolf, author of "American Cheeses" and president of a New York City-based food, restaurant and hospitality consulting firm, agrees on the benefits of cheese papers -- the cheese can breathe, he says.

There was an informative piece on cheese papers in the Chicago Tribune's Good Eating section recently (http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/food/ct-food-0716-fridge-cheese-paper-20140716,0,6071823.story) that focused on the products of Brooklyn-based Formaticum. You can buy Formaticum papers and bags at Eataly, 43 E. Ohio St., some Sur La Table and Crate & Barrel stores and online at formaticum.com.

What to do if you can't find cheese paper?

Wolf says using a resealable plastic bags is "not the ideal situation but it's not terrible. A lot of people keep similar cheeses in a Tupperware box."

If you have to use such a bag, O'Neill says you should do all you can to remove as much air as possible before sealing the bag and storing the cheese.

"Wax paper is a good substitute," he adds, but parchment paper is not. "It leaches out the butterfat," he says.

Wolf, in his book, writes "that slightly waxed butcher paper does the trick. In fact, I prefer it to plastic wrap, which seems to encourage the growth of undesirable mold."

But O'Neill says plastic wrap can work with hard cheese, especially extra-aged varieties, "because you don't want to lose one more bit of moisture out of them."

O'Neill says cheese should be stored in fresh wrappings. If you suspect you may have some leftover cheese, he suggests you should ask for an extra sheet or two of cheese paper from the cheesemonger. Most should provide it gratis, he adds.

Fresh rewraps are "certainly a good thing," Wolf writes in his book, but his two "universally helpful" rules are: "1. Keep all the cheese in one drawer in the fridge," and "2. Scrape off any mold or other dry and nasty bits before serving."

Why all cheese in one drawer? Well, Wolf explains in a telephone interview, keeping the cheese together means they share an environment and there's less of risk of any cheese taking on an odd flavor or aroma from its neighbors.

"If it takes on another flavor, it might as well be cheese and not Chinese food,'' he adds.

Do what you can to make rewrapping easy. A wheel of cheese with just a piece missing -- think a shape like Pac-Man, O'Neill says -- is problematic. Better then to slice the wheel in two so that each piece has a relatively flat edge to help with wrapping, he says, then store the re-wrapped cheese in the deli drawer of your refrigerator.

O'Neill recommends you buy only as much cheese as you think you'll use over the next five to seven days. But don't worry if you buy more cheese by mistake.

"Cheese can last much longer than people think," O'Neill says. "People should not be in a rush to throw something out. If there's a question or if it smells really off, you can bring it into a cheesemonger and get an evaluation."

Wolf is vehemently against freezing, saying the moisture inside the cheese will freeze and break up the cheese structure.

"Cheese is a living food. You don't want to freeze it to death,'' he says.

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