At what temperature should cheese be served?
Store cheese in the fridge, but serve at room temperature. This is best achieved by cutting off what is required for service each day and bringing only that portion from the fridge.
The flavour of a warm cheese blooms, whilst cheese served cold lacks flavour and character, just as cold red wine does.
Make cutting cheese part of general prep to ensure correct serving temperature. It is also easier to portion control accurately during prep as the cheeses are firmer when cold.
When matching wines and cheeses, try to match serving temperatures of the wines and cheeses, and only lightly chill the wines.
Where is the best place to store specialty cheeses?
Cheese has developed over the centuries, not only to excite palates, but because it is a means of preserving milk. Therefore many styles of cheese, e.g. Feta and Farmhouse Gouda, were developed without the need for refrigeration.
There are three objectives when storing specialty cheeses:
• To prevent drying out
• To prevent cross contamination between cheeses and other moulds and yeasts
• To preserve and ripen the cheeses.
The paper that is used to wrap whole wheels in is the best way to ripen the cheeses. Once opened, wrap cheeses in clean cling film, taking care to cover the cut surface completely, and loosely covering the rest of the cheese. Change the cling film each time you cut a portion from the whole cheese.
To prevent the rinds from drying out and to preserve flavour, store the wrapped cheeses in sealed plastic containers using separate containers for blue, white mould and yellow cheeses.
When is a cheese best (or best before)?
Store all soft cheeses in the fridge unless special cheese cabinets are available. Parmesan and other hard cheeses are easier to cut and use if stored at cool room temperature.
With the possible exception of 'fresh cheeses', there is no magical transformation from safe to unsafe on, or near, the best before date of a well-made and cared for cheese.
In fact, it is very unlikely that such a cheese, from a reputable supplier, will ever become unsafe - according to your taste, it simply becomes inedible. NZFSA now allow all products to be sold after it’s past best by date.
Cheese, like wine, is batch made and there are many elements that will influence how quickly each batch will mature. When deciding on a best before date, a very conservative view is taken. Most cheese companies set the best before date on the basis that the cheese will be at, or just over, the 'peak of maturity' on that date, and will still satisfy most consumers.
Therefore a cheese that has 'expired' may be perfectly good. When you know and have confidence in the cheese-maker's judgment, it is simply a matter of taste.
What is a 'double cream cheese'?
The amount of cream in a cheese is one of the variables that cheese-makers can use to change the characteristics of a cheese.
Cream content in a cheese is largely responsible for cheese body, mouth-feel and flavour. Consider the difference in taste between non-fat and homogenised milk.
A 'single cream' cheese is made with milk where cream has been neither added nor skimmed from the milk. To make a 'double cream' cheese the cheese-maker increases the cream content by around 10% (from 50% to 60% Fat in Dry Matter. FDM)
What is the difference between brie and camembert?
White moulded cheeses originated in France. Traditionally, brie is made in the Ile de France region and camembert is made in Normandy. The differences between the two cheeses result from milk from different breeds of cow, different pastoral and climatic conditions and the cheese sizes. French brie is typically a broad, flat wheel weighing 3kg whilst camembert is always a small 250g wheel.
White moulded cheeses made outside France lack these extreme regional differences, yet camembert or brie made in different regions of New Zealand can have different flavours, hence the difference between brands.
Incidentally - the white mould spores are added at the beginning of the cheese making, and are encouraged to grow by being matured in specially humidified rooms. Before the cheese is wrapped, the mould is thick and downy.
How does the blue get in the blue cheese?
Blue mould spores (penicillium roquefortii) are added to the milk in the vat, at the beginning of the blue cheese making process.
During the maturing period, the cheeses quickly grow blue mould on the outside of the cheeses. They are then spiked with stainless steel needles to allow air to enter the cheese and to speed up mould growth throughout the cheese interior. You can often see straight lines of blue mould growth in blue cheeses which is a result of this process. The mould continues to grow throughout the cheeses and grow in the gaps between the curds. This process gives blue cheeses their characteristic appearance and has been named 'blue veining'.
What is different in a vegetarian cheese?
The setting agent used in the basic cheesemaking process is usually calf rennet. This is an enzyme found in the stomach of calves and makes the cheese unsuitable for vegetarians.
Other options are available however, and many companies use a milk coagulant called Fromase, that is produced by the fermentation of a strain of fungus called Rhizormucor miehei. This means that these cheeses are suitable for vegetarians. It is generally impossible to tell whether a cheesemaker has used rennet or Fromase, and especially so in cheeses that are not aged.
'Vegan cheese' is a misnomer, as by definition cheese is made from milk, an animal product.
Vegetarian cheeses are also suitable for Halal use and Fromase is Kosher certified.
Is cheese safe to eat during pregnancy?
Pregnant women are often advised to avoid eating soft cheese due to the risk of Listeriosis, which can cause the foetus to abort. Listeriosis is caused by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) which is common in the environment - particularly in soil.
The low moisture, low pH, high salt content and long maturing of hard cheese makes the growth of Lm very unlikely. However, soft cheeses (bries, camemberts, blues and washed rinds) have characteristics that make them more conductive to Lm growth and they therefore pose a higher risk.
Cheese companies are required to operate extremely stringent food safety and factory hygiene programmes, which are both MAF registered and independently audited, and all products are rigorously tested for contamination. However, safe food-handling practices still have to be observed - pregnant women should avoid any soft cheese if they are not confident it has been stored or handled correctly, before or after purchase.
How do I store hard cheeses properly?
One of the easiest ways to ensure your cheeses remain in perfect condition is to assist in their preservation. The key principle with hard cheeses is to remove the oxygen. Without oxygen the moulds will grow extremely slowly (almost unnoticeable).
Moulds are present all around us in the environment and love to grow on the sliced end of the cheddar block. To see this effect, store a blue cheese next to an unwrapped block of cheddar and within a week you will have a blue mould starting to invade the cheddar!
If moulds do form on the surface of hard cheeses, the surfaces can be trimmed, leaving the good cheese underneath.
Grated cheeses generally have a free-flow agent added to ensure they don't clump together again. The free-flow agent can be mistaken for mould, as it is crystalline and white. The best option for storage of grated cheese is often to freeze it (especially if a bag is not used within 3-4 days of opening). You can use it frozen or defrost it by placing it in the fridge and slowly letting it thaw.
Wrap hard cheeses in plastic film wrap or aluminium foil. For longer term storage, vacuum packing or waxing is the best solution.
Why do cheese cartons have holes cut out from them?
There are several reasons for using holey boxes, but it is only the cartons that are used for brie and blue cheese wheels that have the "breathing holes". So why do these cheeses need holey cartons?
The answer lies in the mould. On closer inspection, you will notice that the laminated paper and foil used to wrap these cheeses are covered in tiny holes. These perforations allow the cheeses to 'breathe', because the specific moulds used in blue and white cheeses require air to thrive. These 'moulded' cheeses also give off a small amount of moisture and heat as they mature. So the purpose of the holes in the cartons is to allow the heat and moisture to escape and to allow cool air to move freely around the cheeses, keeping the temperature of the cheeses even.
These are the ideal storage conditions for blue and white moulded cheeses. The affineuer (the person who matures and ripens the cheese to its optimum condition) also closely monitors air temperature and humidity to provide each cheese with its ideal ripeningconditions.
Why is the packaging film around some Cheeses loose?
A number of Cheeses are now packaged using a "state of the art" flow wrapper from Italy, which utilises MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packaging) technology. This new technology produces a loose packaging film around the cheese, which while common in Europe, is new to New Zealand.
During the packaging process, the cheese pack is flushed with carbon dioxide or a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, depending on the individual characteristics of the cheese. This removes the oxygen from the pack and protects the cheese from spoilage, while allowing slow ripening to continue. The flow wrap packaging will shrink down slightly, depending on the mixture of gases used, after the cheeses are packed. However, as this new technology is not a vacuum packaging process (which allows only minimal ripening), there will be loose packaging film around the cheese.
How do you ripen a Blue Cheese quickly?
To quickly ripen kiwifruit, you can place them in a paper bag with apples. On the other hand there is no magic formula to ripen Blue cheese, quickly, just patience and time. However, there are a number of things you can do to help with the process of ripening creamy blue cheeses.
Ensure your fridge or chiller is set at the right temperature, around 4ÂºC. Just like Goldilocks who did not like her porridge too hot or too cold, Blue cheese does not like extreme temperatures. If the fridge is too cold, the mould on Blue cheese can't grow. Blue cheese actually generates its own heat as it matures, so cool air circulation is essential.
Do not leave your cheese in a warm area. Leaving Blue cheese in a warm area will not make it ripen any faster. In fact, leaving the cheese in a warm area for a long period of time will actually damage it, as the gaps between the delicate blue and grey veins may close up and therefore stop blue mould developing to its full "veining".
If you cut into a wheel of Blue cheese and discover that it is not mature enough to your liking, wrap it back up in the silver foil which the cheese was originally wrapped in, and seal with a piece of tape. Do not wrap the cheese up in plastic film wrap as this does not allow the cheese to breathe as well. The silver foil has tiny holes in it, which allow the cheese to breathe. Just like us, Blue cheese needs to breathe.
Turn Blue cheese wheels once a week. This will ensure that the cheese does not get a soggy base and that all parts of the cheese are getting a good circulation of air.
Don't store Blue cheese next to other strong smelling foods such as fish or spring onions. The odours from these foods will permeate through the cheese.
Where did Camembert originate from?
Camembert cheese originated in Camembert, a tiny village in the province of Normandy in northwestern France. Camembert is perched on a hill in the fertile Pays d'Auge, overlooking the Viette river.
Normans had been making cheese since the eleventh century, but Camembert did not appear until 600 years later. The legend goes that in 1791, Marie Harel gave refuge to a priest from the region of Brie who was fleeing the French Revolution. To thank Harel for her kindness, the priest gave her the secret recipe for Brie cheese. Harel adapted the recipe for her homemade cheeses and called the cheese Camembert.
Camembert became a sought-after cheese following Emperor Napoleon's III visit to Camembert in 1863. Napoleon was so delighted with the Camembert cheese made by Harel's grandson Victor Paynel that he requested that the cheese be available for his table at the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
By the end of the nineteeth century many farms started to produce Camembert cheese. The introduction of round wooden boxes in 1890 meant that the cheese could be transported over great distances without getting damaged.
In 1983, Cheesemakers received the Appellation d'Origine Controlé¥ (AOC) status for Camembert de Normandie. To gain AOC status, Camembert must be made using unpasteurised milk sourced from the Normandy region. The milk must not be heated over 37ºC and the curd must be ladled into the moulds. Only a handful of producers presently hold this title.
What does "best before" and "use by" mean under the new food standards?
Since 12 December, 2002 when the food standards were changed, all cheeses with a shelf life of 2 years or under must have a "best before" date or "use by" date labeled on it. In the past, the use of "best before" dates and "use by" dates were not clearly defined.
The "use by" date can only be used on products which have to be consumed within a set period of time, have a short shelf life and which do not get better with age. This means fresh cultured products such as Bocconcini, Fresh Mozzarella and Fromage Blanc
Mascarpone and Cream Cheese have been processed and packaged using special heat treatments, therefore extending their shelf life. These products have been labeled with a "best before" date. However, once opened, treat them as fresh.
The "best before" date is placed on all cheeses which improve with age. When deciding the "best before" date for cheeses, Cheese companies tend to take a very conservative view. Therefore many cheeses will actually reach their peak of maturity on the "best before" date or past the "best before" date. Depending on your taste, cheeses are often better after their "best before" date. Cheeses dated with a "best before" label can be legally sold after the date, providing the cheeses and their packaging have not been damaged.
Semi-hard cheeses such as Gouda and hard cheeses such as Aged Cheddar only improve with age as they ripen. Therefore in many cases, older is better.
It is important to remember that the stated date labels are only valid if the products are stored under the stated storage conditions and the packaging remains completely intact. All cheeses must be stored refrigerated. If cheeses have been frozen and then thawed, the stated date marking is no longer applicable.
What are the best knives to use to cut Cheeses?
Most knives will successfully cut cheese. However, to obtain the perfect cut, there are some tricks to the trade.
Both open-bladed knives (knives with the 'holes' in the blade) and narrow-handled knives are excellent for cutting soft brie-style cheeses and sticky washed-rind cheeses. The holes prevent the cheese from sticking to the blade. Also, the raised handle of narrow-handled knives stops users' hands from coming into contact with cutting boards.
Large hard cheeses, eg Goudas, are often cut with a double-handled knife using a rocking action.
However, for serious cheese cutting, you can't beat a wire, and a Handee Cheese Cutter is a wise investment. The Handee Cheese Cutter efficiently and quickly cuts whole wheels and wax-enrobed cheeses into neat portions, and is easy to clean, dry and use. A wire is also much safer to use than a knife.
For cheeseboards, it is important to remember to use a separate knife for each cheese. For service, table knives are suitable to handle small pieces of cheese - or go French and serve a knife and fork!
How do I marinate feta?
During summer, there is no better time to marinate feta for antipasto platters and salads.
All fetas can be successfully marinated, and it is just a case of personal preference which one is used - cow, goat or ewe.
To marinate feta, first dry it with a paper towel to remove all excess brine. Cut feta into cubes and place in a sterilised jar. Add enough olive oil or a good quality vegetable oil to cover the cheese and a combination of flavourings such as herbs (rosemary, basil or sage), finely diced sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried capsicums or dried chilli peppers. Cover with an airtight lid and place the cheese in the fridge. (Due to the cool temperature the oil may solidify). Unopened, the cheese will keep for one month, but once the jar is opened treat the cheese as fresh and consume within a month. Ensure a clean spoon is used each time cheese is removed from the jar.
And remember, if you find your feta too salty, soak feta in milk or water for an hour prior to use.
What is an Affineur and What does he do?
The Affineur is the 'guardian' of the cheese. From the onset of the cheesemaking process to the final product, the Affineur plays a key role in the life of every cheese.
True Affinage starts well before the cheese is made, as the cheesemakers must be aware of the environmental factors that influence the milk and therefore the cheese.The Affineur advises the cheesemakers on environmental factors, such as seasonal changes and feeds available for stock. This helps them to adjust their cheesemaking to react to differences in the composition of the milk.
Once manufactured, the cheeses are placed in cheese ripening rooms. In these rooms the cheeses are cared for daily by an assistant cheesemaker under the supervision of the head cheesemaker and the Affineur. Every cheese is turned daily by hand, with some types washed with special cultures to promote flavour. In essence, all but fresh cheeses develop a rind to aid their maturation.
Once a rind on the cheese has developed, the cheese is placed into specialised maturing rooms. Affinage in the secondary maturation process involves turning the cheeses several times a week to ensure moisture remains even within the cheese.
The Affineur is also responsible for grading the cheese on a regular basis to check quality, taste and maturity. The Affineur works closely with production managers, domestic and export sales managers to orchestrate the flow of cheese being manufactured and released to each market.
How do I taste cheese?
Whenever you really want to taste food or wine for the purpose of assessing or remembering it, a little focus yields big rewards. Follow these instructions:
1. Never conduct a cheese tasting when you are really hungry as you are more likely to simply eat the cheese quickly without really tasting it.
2. Allow plenty of time for your tasting. To do the tasting properly, allow around 5 minutes for each cheese. Have pen and paper ready to take notes.
3. Like anything, a little preparation makes all the difference. Before starting the tasting, bring to room temperature the cheeses you wish to taste. Unwrap the cheeses and place on a platter or board, so they are not touching, in order of flavour strength. It's a bit like the colours in the rainbow, there's an order to it (fresh cheeses, semi-soft cheeses, feta cheeses, white mould, Swiss cheeses, washed rind cheeses, hard cheeses and blue cheeses). Ensure you have a separate knife for each cheese.
4. To start the tasting session, look at the exterior of the cheese. Does it have a rind? All cheeses except fresh cheeses will have some type of rind. Make a note of the colour and the texture of the rind.
5. Cut a piece of cheese and pick it up by your thumb and two fingers. Assess the body of the cheese by squeezing it gently. Is the body of the cheese squishy and soft, hard and firm or something in-between? This is one time when you can play with your food!
6. Smell the cheese. What does the cheese smell like? Does the cheese smell milky, fresh, sweet, buttery, musty, mushroomy, spicy, acidic, like 'smelly socks' or something else.
7. Now it's time to taste the cheese. Take a decent bite of cheese (not a mouse-sized nibble) and chew it slowly, mixing the cheese with air and your saliva, so that it covers all your taste buds. Think of what the cheese tastes like to you. Does the cheese taste rich, creamy, dry, sweet, spicy, fruity, mushroomy, nutty or something else? Is it mild or strong?
Just like wine, each cheese will have a number of different flavours. Commit your findings to your memory or write them down on your piece of paper.
8. Before you proceed to the next cheese, take a bite of a plain water cracker (not a salty cracker) and a sip of water or wine if you prefer. If you have been previously touching a particularly smelly cheese, wash your hands before continuing.
Why does the colour of cheese vary?
Cheeses vary in colour due to a combination of factors including: the type of animal the milk is derived from, the breed of animal, feed type, fat content of the milk and the production process used to turn the milk into cheese.
Using only natural cheesemaking processes, the colour of all cheeses will vary due to seasonal variations. Different breeds of animals produce different coloured milk. For example, Jersey cows traditionally produce a yellower fat milk compared to Friesian cows due to their inability to metabolise carotene. (Carotene is found in grass).
Like the Friesian cows, goat and sheep also have the ability to metabolise carotene. Therefore cheeses produced from goats' and ewes'heep milk are whiter in colour. Spring grass also influences the colour of cheese.
Spring grass contains a higher level of carotene than summer grass, therefore early season bries and camemberts will be yellower in colour compared to summer bries and camemberts.
The fat content of the milk also influences the colour of the cheese. Traditionally, ewes produce milk with a higher fat percentage (almost double compared to goats' milk) which results in a creamier white coloured cheese compared to goats' milk cheeses.
Another way of influencing the colour of cheese is the level of acid produced in the cheese-making process. The main job of cultures is to produce lactic acid from the lactose in the milk. The more lactic acid produced, the higher the acid content of the cheese which results in a paler coloured body.
Of course, sometimes the colour of cheese will be influenced by moulds or ingredients which are added during the cheesemaking process. The blue in a blue cheese, is due to the natural blue mould that is introduced to the milk during the cheesemaking process. Flavoured cheeses will vary in colour due to the additions of vegetables, herbs and spices.
Should I name and describe a cheese on the dessert menu?
Yes, it's imperative that cheeses are named and described on the dessert menu. It is a win/win situation for your establishment and for your customer.
Most customers don't enjoy surprises and many are too shy to ask. They will be disappointed if they receive a style of cheese that they do not like. A customer will have a more enjoyable cheese experience if they know exactly what they are will be receiving, so it is very important that cheeses are described in detail on the menu and that front of house staff know the characteristics of each cheese. For example: 'Kapiti Aorangi - a silky smooth soft buttery cream brie with a mild mushroomy flavour and soft fluffy rind' sounds so much more enticing than 'brie' and 10 times better than 'Selection of New Zealand Cheeses'.
Naming cheeses on the dessert menu also gives your customers reassurance that they are receiving a quality cheese for dessert. Given the choice, customers will pick 'Whitestone Windsor Blue' over Blue Vein cheese.
How is the cheese flavour affected by seasonal variations in milk?
Milk is a "living" natural product. Its composition, colour, flavour and the flavours that flow from it, including in cheese, are all influenced by seasonal and day-to-day elements such as climatic and feed conditions. There are a host of other variables, including the stage of lactation of the milking animal and the breeding season. The latter is particularly influential in goats' milk; rampant hormones can result in especially strong "goaty" flavours.
Consumers in the "New World" that are mostly urban are generally much less aware of the natural rhythms of life on the farm and expect consistency in their cheese and dairy products. However it is essential to recognise that milk and cheese are natural foods. A key element of the cheesemakers art is to understand the milk he or she is working with and to adapt cheesemaking procedures, based on experience, an understanding of seasonal changes and science, to produce a consistent product. Seasonal changes are a cause for discovery and celebration rather than a reason to pursue blandness and homogeneous consistency.
Saying this is not a justification for poorly made cheese. It is to recognise that cheese is diverse, debatable and a celebration of life and living foods.