It's important to understand the basics of caring for cheese to make sure it stays its freshest and most delicious longer.
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.
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
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.
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?
Step 1 - Milk Intake
Quality cheese begins with one key ingredient – quality milk. Before the cheesemaking process begins, incoming milk is first tested for quality and purity. It takes approximately 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese.
Step 2 - Standardization
Next, the milk is weighed, heat treated or pasteurized to ensure product safety and uniformity.
Step 3 - Starter Culture & Coagulant
Starter cultures, or good bacteria, are added to start the cheesemaking process. They help determine the ultimate flavor and texture of the cheese. Next, a milk-clotting enzyme called rennet is added to coagulate the milk, forming a custard-like mass.
Step 4 - Cutting
It's then cut into small pieces to begin the process of separating the liquid (whey) from the milk solids (curds). Large curds are cooked at lower temperatures, yielding softer cheeses like Mascarpone and Ricotta. Curds cut smaller are cooked at higher temperatures, yielding harder cheeses like Gruyere and Romano.
Step 5 - Stirring, Heating & Draining
Cheesemakers cook and stir the curds and whey until the desired temperature and firmness of the curd is achieved. The whey is then drained off, leaving a tightly formed curd.
Step 6 - Curd Transformation
Different handling techniques and salting affect how the curd is transformed into the many cheese varieties made in Wisconsin.
Step 7 - Pressing
Pressing determines the characteristic shape of the cheese and helps complete the curd formation. Most cheeses are pressed in three to 12 hours, depending on their size.
Step 8 - Curing
Depending on the variety and style of cheese, another step may be curing. Curing is used for aged cheeses and helps fully develop its flavor and texture. The cheese is moved to a room that is carefully controlled for required humidity and temperature and may be aged for 10 years or more.