I’ll admit it. Back in my carefree spendthrift days, I’d toss the cheese in the garbage when it turned moldy. I was oblivious to the fact that I might as well be throwing dollar bills away.
True, we could opt for buying just a few slices at a time from the deli counter, but that’s way too expensive. And unnecessary. I can save more than $2 a pound off the best price at the supermarket if I buy in bulk from a discount warehouse like Sam’s Club or Costco. And that presents the problem of storage.
Whoever said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” must have been a deli owner. Think about it. With all that cheese in those cases, have you ever seen one in a lovely shade of green? Never. In fact, all I know about the proper care and handling of cheese I learned from one such person. He introduced me to the two archenemies of cheese: air and bacteria.
OUNCE OF PREVENTION. Limit exposure to air, and you can greatly extend the useful life of any type of cheese. The American Cheese Society advises us to store cheese in fresh wrapping, preferably in waxed or parchment paper, after the cheese has been opened to avoid having the cheese dry out or pick up other flavors. Natural cheese is a living organism, with enzymes and bacteria that need air and moisture to survive. Thus, re-wrapping the cheese in paper and then in plastic wrap to create a micro-environment for the cheese is the preferred storage treatment. However, you should not leave cheese in the same wrappings for extended periods of time.
BACTERIA. I know that it takes bacteria to make cheese in the first place, but that is much different than the kind of bacteria on your hands. So here’s the second rule of mold prevention: Don’t touch the cheese! Even when you wash your hands well, some amount of bacteria remains, and while it’s not at all harmful to you or the cheese, that’s what gets that green thing going. Either wear food preparation gloves or make sure the plastic is always creating a barrier between your hands and the portion of the cheese that’s going back into the refrigerator.
POUND OF CURE. For cheese that has already turned, there are a couple of remedies. You can actually wipe the mold away with a clean cloth you’ve dipped into white vinegar. Not the most pleasant job, but it does work to save the cheese. According the Mayo Clinic, mold generally can’t penetrate far into hard and semisoft cheeses, such as cheddar, colby, Parmesan and Swiss.
For others like cheddar, you can safely cut away the moldy part and eat the rest of the cheese. Cut off at least 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) around and below the moldy spot. Be sure to keep the knife out of the mold so it doesn’t contaminate other parts of the cheese. Once all the green is gone, treat this as you would a new block of cheese by following the rules above.
Mary invites questions at mary@everyday
cheapskate.com, or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, P.O. Box 2099, Cypress, CA 90630.