The 14 Biggest Cheese Myths Debunked

“I hate dictating to people. I don’t like too many rules,” says Iain Mellis, a 40-year-old cheesemaker, with cheese shops bearing his name scattered across Scotland. Mellis has spent his life trying to make artisan cheese more accessible; the last thing he wants is to be so prescriptive that people are put off.

Yet the world of good cheese is already mired in misunderstandings that, at best, detract from its enjoyment and, at worst, lead to its downfall. Improperly stored cheese is easily spoiled, while misguided beliefs that it takes red wine, specialist knives, or even a cheese board to enjoy it only reinforce the cheese’s sought-after reputation.

As we enter cheese season – and the month in which we’ll buy (and eat) more cheese than in any other – it’s worth debunking some of the most common cheese fictions.

Choose your cheese

Cooking with cheaper cheese is a false economy. Photography: iStock

You can cook with cheap cheese
“It’s a false economy,” Mellis says. “Our cheese could be twice the price [of supermarket varieties], but you will only need half the amount. If you’re using a block of mild cheddar for a macaroni cheese, you’ll need a lot more than you would use, say, Montgomery cheddar – and you’ll probably ruin your sauce in the process. “This will make it greasy and more likely to split.”

Pre-grated cheese is good
Grated parmesan, mozzarella or cheddar, for example, are “a terrific addition to your recipes”, says Luca Dusi of wine and cheese bar Passione Vino in east London. “Once grated, the cheese will start to oxidize,” which means it will also start to lose flavor.

The older the better
The “most pernicious myth of all”, according to Dominic Coyte of Borough Cheese Company. “All cheeses have a peak period, when they are at their best, and then they decline. The art of the affineur, the one who refines the cheese, is to recognize this summit. A 48 month county will be much more expensive than a 24 month county, but less universally loved.

Storage of cheeses

Take note of the wax paper.  Photography: iStock

Take note of the wax paper. Photography: iStock

Wrap in cling film or store in an airtight container
“Cling film is the worst environment for cheese because it traps moisture,” says Mellis. The same goes for a plastic container, says Jason Hinds, manager of Neal’s Yard Dairy. “This makes it damp and precipitates the growth of white surface mold.” This mold is edible, but it alters the taste and appearance of cheese, and is easily avoided by using beeswax wraps (a Mellis favorite), wax paper, or even parchment paper. “Anything that allows you to wrap it fully and comfortably; not so tight that the cheese can’t breathe, but not so loose that the cheese dries out.

You can store it in the refrigerator door (the space often marked “dairy”)
“The fridge is an exceptionally dry environment – and the door is especially dry,” says Hinds. Ideally, you should skip the fridge altogether and opt for a cellar or pantry, says Mellis — but not everyone has that option. If a refrigerator is your most hygienic choice, Hinds recommends the salad drawer. “It’s cool enough to keep the cheese from getting moldy, but it’s separate from the rest of the fridge and is slightly damp, so the cheese doesn’t dry out.”

If it’s goes musty, it’s bad
Cheese – good cheese – is a living product. If given a chance, it will develop mold – but this mold is rarely, if ever, bad for you. “Like the rind, it will penetrate very slightly and can change the taste of the cheese very slightly,” Mellis explains, “but it’s not dangerous.” Indeed, a streak of blue mold in a hard cheese like cheddar is considered a good thing, adding complexity and depth. White mold should be cut out, Hinds says, simply because it impairs flavor. Similarly, brown and gray mold are also best cut, but for taste rather than health reasons.

How to serve

Although perfectly acceptable, the specialized knives and board are not necessary.  Photography: iStock

Although perfectly acceptable, the specialized knives and board are not necessary. Photography: iStock

The temperature in your room is the “room temperature”
“The biggest mistake you can make is eating cheese straight out of the fridge,” says Em Brightman, head chef at Angela Hartnett’s London restaurant Murano – but it’s also worth remembering that “room temperature” in terms of of cheese “means 14 to 18 degrees”. . If the room is warmer than that, that’s also undesirable. You don’t want the cheese to be shiny,” she says. Store the cheese somewhere away from a heat source “until it is warm to the touch and the texture yields slightly.”

You need specialty cheese knives…
“I have a few cheese knives, but I don’t take them out,” Mellis says. “I tend to serve cheese with paring knives, which are sharp and small.” The most important thing is that the knife is thin. The wider the blade, the more cheese you will break up. That doesn’t mean you have to afford specialized – and often overpriced – equipment, adds Hinds. “The type of knives you use to prepare fruits and vegetables are usually quite thin.”

…and a cheese platter
While pleasing to the eye, they can leave the cheese at the mercy of guests, who might not appreciate the nuances of cutting the cheeses or the order in which to eat them. “Be sure to eat as you please, from the mildest cheese to the strongest in flavor,” advises Brightman. “I prefer to serve individual cheese plates, with five or six portions of similar size and with the crust on,” Hinds says.

how to eat

Taleggio, complete with a thick, completely edible rind.  Photography: iStock

Taleggio, complete with a thick, completely edible rind. Photography: iStock

The peels are not edible
With the obvious exception of cloth, wax, or plastic rinds, most rinds are edible, even on hard cheeses. “It has its own flavor, and sometimes the best flavors, due to mold ripening,” Hinds says. “One of the cheeses I love the most is taleggio, a soft, creamy and tangy cheese,” Dusi tells me. “I hate to see people struggling to remove the rind, which adds to the final taste.”

Red wine is the best pairing…
“The truth is that red wine tannins can seriously conflict with many cheeses,” says Alan Watson, Head Cheesemaker at Funk in London. “I would recommend looking for more sparkling white wines and even orange wines.” White wine’s natural acidity is perfect for fresh, crumbly cheeses – “even blue cheeses, with their sharp, thready veins, pair well with white wines,” says Patricia Michaelson, founder of La Fromagerie, “the Chardonnay, with its buttery richness, is perfect with hard cheeses like Gruyere and Lincolnshire Poacher.”

Cheese and beer were previously unthinkable.  Photography: iStock

Cheese and beer were previously unthinkable. Photography: iStock

… but beer is forbidden
“Beer and cheese were born to go together and share a lot of history,” says Jonny Garrett, founder of Craft Beer Channel and author of A Year in Beer. “For centuries they have been made from local ingredients by women at home. The fact that they have always shared the table means that they have similar or complementary flavors. Plus, he says, “there’s such a variety of beer styles that there’s always somewhere to turn. The best classic bitters are wonderful with Lancashires; krieks and raspberries add fruitiness to soft goat cheese; and imperial stouts and barley wines are indicative of the blues.

A matter of digestion

Cheese gives you nightmares
Chances are you’re having cheese pretty late at night this time of year – and it’s eating (and drinking) late that leads to poor quality sleep, making you more likely to remembering your dreams, rather than an inherent property of cheese. Michaelson advises avoiding soft drinks, tea, and coffee, which don’t complement cheese from the perspective of your palate or digestive system. “If you don’t want wine, have apple or grape juice.”

You can’t eat cheese if you’re lactose intolerant
Rather, one of the reasons humans developed cheese in the first place was to digest the milk of ruminants, argues Ned Palmer, the author of A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles and A Cheesemonger’s Compendium of British and Irish. Cheese. During the cheese-making process, bacteria convert lactose in milk into lactic acid, which people with lactose intolerance can tolerate. “There are people who are allergic to cow’s milk cheese, but it’s because of the type of protein it contains, not the lactose,” he says. Hard, ripened cheeses are your best bet if you’re lactose intolerant, because the fresher the cheese, the higher the lactose – although there’s still little left.

make the cut

The biggest faux pas in cheesemaking is cutting off the nose of a cheese, rather than slicing it lengthwise.  Photography: iStock

The biggest faux pas in cheesemaking is cutting off the nose of a cheese, rather than slicing it lengthwise. Photography: iStock

Slice as you wish
No. Although you don’t need a set of designated cheese knives, you do need a range of sharp knives, in order to avoid getting blue cheese on top of other cheeses or vice versa. The biggest faux pas in cheese is cutting off the nose of a cheese rather than slicing it lengthwise – not for label reasons, but because “cheese tastes different from the center outward,” says Hinds. “If you cut the nose off the cheese, not only are you brutalizing the look, but you’re depriving yourself or your guests of the opportunity to taste through a range of profiles: from the center, where it’s sharper and more acidic, on the outside, where you get more flavorful flavors. The thinner the slice, the better, says Watson, because that means more oxygen. “That excess oxygen will really bring out the flavor profile of the cheese – like you’re taking in air while drinking wine.” If you’re a heavy cheese eater, it might be worth investing in a cheese wire, which will give you the finest cut. – Guardian

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