Cheese 101

It's important to understand the basics of caring for cheese to make sure it stays its freshest and most delicious longer.

Choosing

You want to start by choosing the best quality cheese, no matter what variety you're buying. Here are some tips:

  • Cheese should have a fresh, clean appearance with no cracks or surface mold. Be sure the packaging is sealed properly, without any openings or tears that expose the cheese.
  • Buy cheese at a store or market where frequent shipments of fresh cheese are delivered. Check the "use by" or "sell by" dates on packaged cheese. If buying fresh cut cheese, ask the clerk how best to wrap the cheese for storage as well as how long the cheese can be kept.
  • Look for the "Wisconsin Cheese" identification. You'll know you are buying a product that has to meet the highest of cheesemaking standards.

Handling

After arriving home with your new cheese finds, remember the three C's of cheese handling.

  • Clean: Because cheese easily absorbs other flavors, keep it away from other aromatic foods in the refrigerator.
  • Cold: Refrigerate cheese between 34° and 38°F.
  • Covered: Cheese loses flavor and moisture when it's exposed to air, so make sure to wrap hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, in tightly drawn plastic wrap. Soft or fresh cheeses, such as Mascarpone, are best stored in clean, airtight containers. Semi-hard cheeses, including Cheddar and Gouda, can be wrapped in plastic wrap as well as a lighter wrapping paper, such as parchment.

Cutting & Trimming

Make cutting blocks of Wisconsin Cheese easier by using these tips:

  • Most cheese is easiest to cut when chilled. However, some hard cheeses, such as Parmesan or Asiago, cut better when they are brought to room temperature.
  • A chef's knife works well for cutting most cheeses. If the cheese has a wax or rind, score it before you begin, ensuring a clean cut line.
  • Before eating or serving, trim off any dry edges or surface mold.

Cooking with Cheese

Before cooking with cheese, it's helpful to know which cheeses are best suited to high and low temperatures as well as mechanical manipulation, such as shredding and grating. Following these guidelines will help you cook old recipe favorites as well as concoct new creations using Wisconsin Cheese.

  • High heat is the enemy of cheese. Hard cheeses tolerate high temperatures better than soft cheeses. However, exposing any cheese to high heat for too long can cause it to curdle toughen and separate. Keep cheese warm over low or indirect heat.
  • When cubing, shredding or grating, remember cheese is best handled cold. Semi-soft and hard cheeses are best for these methods, while soft cheeses should be used for spooning or spreading.
  • When broiling foods with cheese toppings, place the pan so the food is about 4 to 6 inches from the heat and broil until the cheese is just melted.
  • Cheese is best measured by weight:
    • 4 oz of natural cheese = 1 cup shredded
    • 6 oz of softer cheeses, like Blue and Feta = 1 cup crumbled
    • 3 oz of hard cheese = 1 cup grated

Storing

If you are lucky enough to have leftover cheese, store your opened cheese using these suggested guidelines. Proper storage will preserve a cheese's original flavor, appearance and quality.

  • Once a cheese is opened, it's imperative to minimize moisture loss by keeping it covered in the refrigerator. For covering suggestions, see previous section "Handling."
  • Natural and pasteurized process cheese should last about four to eight weeks in the refrigerator, while fresh and grated hard cheese with higher moisture content should be used within two weeks.
  • If cheese develops surface mold, simply cut off about 1/4 to 1/2 inch from each affected side and use the remaining cheese within one week.

Freezing

Cheese can be frozen, but we do not recommend it. A cheese that has been frozen is best used as an ingredient. The best candidates for freezing are firm cheeses, such as Swiss, and hard cheeses, such as Parmesan.

  • When freezing cheese, wrap pieces tightly in weights of 1 pound or less.
  • Label and date your cheese before storing it at temperatures of about 0°F.
  • It's best to thaw cheese in the refrigerator and use your cheese within a couple of days.
  • Freezing cheese will change the texture. Semi-soft and hard cheeses will be more crumbly while softer cheeses will separate slightly. The nutritional value will remain stable.

How Cheese is Made

Have you ever wondered how cheese is made?

 

How Cheese is Made

Outstanding Wisconsin cheeses begin with outstanding milk from Wisconsin dairy farms, an advantage they all share. And, although each cheese variety made in Wisconsin requires unique steps to produce, many common procedures are shared as well. Essentially, the proteins and milkfats in the milk are coagulated and concentrated in a curd mass, moisture levels are reduced and the liquid or whey is drained off.

Steps In Making Cheese
Step 1 - Milk Intake

Step 1 - Milk Intake

Incoming milk from Wisconsin dairy farms is tested for quality and purity. Fat levels are adjusted, depending on type of cheese being made.

Step 2 - Standardization

Step 2 - Standardization

Next, the milk is weighed. (Generally, about 10 pounds of milk will yield 1 pound of cheese.) The milk is heat-treated or pasteurized unless intended for a raw milk cheese.

Step 3 - Starter Culture and Coagulant

Step 3 - Starter Culture and Coagulant

Starter cultures, or good bacteria, are added to start the cheesemaking process. They help determine the ultimate flavor and texture of the cheese. A milk-clotting enzyme called rennet is added to coagulate the milk, forming a custard-like mass.

Step 4 - Cutting and Heating

Step 4 - Cutting and Heating

The gel-like cheese mass is then cut into curds to begin the process of separating the liquid (whey) from the milk solids (curds). They are then stirred and cooked until desired temperature and firmness are achieved. Large curds are cooked at lower temperatures, yielding softer cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta. Smaller curds are cooked at higher temperatures, yielding harder cheeses like parmesan and romano.

Step 5 - Draining

Step 5 - Draining

The whey is then drained off the curds, leaving a tightly formed curd.

Step 6 - Curd Transformation

Step 6 - Curd Transformation

The next phase, handling techniques and salting, determines how the curd is transformed into distinct cheese varieties made in Wisconsin.

Step 7 - Pressing

Step 7 - Pressing

Curds are pressed to form individual cheese varieties into characteristic shapes, release additional whey and "knit" the curds.

Step 8 - Curing

Step 8 - Curing

For aged cheeses, the curing step now begins. The process further develops the flavor and texture of the cheese. Aging rooms are carefully controlled for required humidity and temperature. For food safety considerations, raw milk cheeses require a 60-day minimum curing period before sales distribution.