Ask the Cheesemonger
Q: My cheese has gone moldy. Is there some kind of CPR I can perform on it or should I throw it away?
A: Not to worry, there’s no need to get out the defibrillator paddles just yet. Mold growing on cheese is a perfectly natural occurrence. The moisture content and pH that allow good molds to grow can enable the less desirable ones as well, but more often than not that freaky-looking fluff is actually hiding lovely, still-enjoyable cheese. So yes, there are several cheese CPR techniques that you can and should employ before you consider throwing it away. If the mold growth is small and shallow, use a cheese slicer or plane to shave off the mold and the area around it.
If the mold is more extensive and appears to go deeper into the cheese, use a knife to cut away about half an inch or more until the mold is removed. One exception to these efforts is when you're dealing with fresh cheeses, like cottage cheese and fromage blanc; if you see mold growing on these, it’s best to toss the whole container.
There are easy ways to prevent mold from getting a toehold in the first place. Start by purchasing pieces that have been freshly cut from a larger wheel, and buy only what you can consume in a couple of weeks. Not only will you see less mold growth, but your cheese will have more flavor. Always wrap aged cheese in a fresh sheet of wax or parchment paper and store in a cold, draft-free part of your refrigerator (the crisper drawer is a safe bet). Every time you unwrap a cheese, use a new piece of wax paper when rewrapping it for storage. This will prevent potential mold transference.
Q: My cheese-loving son is at college in a remote place where good, interesting cheese is hard to come by. I’d like to send him a care package. Can you recommend three cheeses that ship well and yet are quite different from each other?
A: It’s worth noting that while cheese is a perishable food, many types aren’t as fragile as they seem, nor do they need to be refrigerator-cold all the time. For as long as people have been making cheese—centuries really—varieties have existed that simply need a cool storage cave. The near-freezing temperature of a Frigidaire is not necessary.
Firm cheeses like cheddar are always good candidates for shipping; Bleu Mont Bandaged Cheddar from Wisconsin or Montgomery’s Cheddar from England are great choices. An aged goat cheese, such as Pondhopper from Tumalo Farms in Oregon, has a lovely creamy texture but is sturdy enough to be shipped. And while it might seem risky, softer cheese like Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt Tam from California will survive shipping under the right conditions. With an insulated box, ice packs, and enough cushioning, soft-ripened cheeses travel just as well as the firmer types. Another thing to keep in mind: cheese should be shipped in the early part of the week and sent overnight or second-day mail so that it doesn’t sit in a warehouse over the weekend waiting to be delivered. Instead, the lucky recipient can spend the whole weekend enjoying a box of cheesy goodness.
Rachel Cohen first began working with cheese as a pastry chef in the Bay Area. In 2004 she joined Cowgirl Creamery/Tomales Bay Foods as a cheesemonger and later became the retail manager of Cowgirl Creamery’s Ferry Building shop in San Francisco. Rachel is currently the cheese buyer for the company.