Cheese should be stored in the refrigerator in the two sheets of wax paper we have provided. The vegetable drawer is ideal – the fridge is more humid in the low, closed container. For harder cheeses – such as Cheddar, Gruyère, or Parmesan – unwrap it from the wax and place it in a tupperware container with a couple cubes of sugar. The sugar helps to regulate the moisture, and can extend the cheese's life up to two months.
HOW SHOULD I EAT MY CHEESE?
The short answer is however you like, but if you have purchased a full cheese board (that is a goat, a soft/bloomy, a hard, a washed and a blue cheese) and would like to replicate how we do it in the shop, we recommend that, before eating, you first unwrap your cheeses from the wax paper and set them out of the fridge. This will allow them to warm up to room temperature.
When eating the cheeses, first try them in ascending order of strength, starting usually with the goat's cheese (typically the mildest) and finishing with the blue (the most aggressive). The way the flavours naturally overlap encourages the most true and complete taste-sensations, and never leaves milder cheeses eclipsed by bigger, complex-tasting ones. Be sure to ask your cheesemonger the order of strength.
I AM A VEGETARIAN; WHAT CHEESES ARE SUITABLE FOR ME?
Cheeses with vegetarian rennet. Rennet is an enzyme, and is in all but a few cheeses; it acts as the coagulant that separates curds from whey, and is vital in the production of most cheese.
Vegetarian rennet cheeses fall into two camps: those made with rennet extracted in a lab from bacterial or fungal sources (visit the Vegetarian Society's website for more information), and those made with a natural coagulant derived from the flowers of the Cardoon plant – a wild thistle. (On our site these two varieties will be delineated by 'vegetarian' for the former, and 'vegetable' for the latter.)
A large number of British and Irish cheeses are vegetarian. France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, as a general rule, use traditional rennet exclusively. Portuguese and Spanish ewe's milk cheeses are the only vegetable rennet cheeses we offer.
I AM PREGNANT; WHAT CHEESES ARE SUITABLE FOR ME?
There does not seem to be a conclusive answer to this question. Some ladies only eat pasteurised cheese, others do not alter or mitigate their cheese diet whatsoever, still others go purely by the recommendation of their doctors or the NHS website.
We however recommend only hard pasteurised cheeses – aged nine months or more – produced without moulds growing either in the pate (i.e. no blue cheeses) or on the pate (i.e. bloomy or washed rind cheeses). Most of the bacteria that are dangerous to pregnant women are carried in contaminated water. And even pasteurised cheeses can carry bacteria such as Listeria (for instance, 99% of all reported cases of Listeria in Epoisses have come from pasteurised versions of the cheese).
It is for this reason that we feel consistency – hardness or softness of the pate – should in some ways overshadow the state of pasteurisation, and to strictly avoid soft cheeses as a rule. Exception: if you are cooking the cheese (e.g. Raclette) it should not matter whether or not it is pasteurised. Pasteurisation occurs at 72ºC, so if you heat any cheese beyond that temperature, you are, in effect, self-pasteurising.
I'M LACTOSE INTOLERANT; WHAT CHEESES CAN I EAT?
Lactose is a sugar that is found only in milk. It is water soluble, and over 90% is lost in the whey. The remaining lactose provides food for the bacteria that produce fermentation. During fermentation, lactose is converted into lactic acid, which is essential for the preservation of the curd. When all the sugars have been broken down into lactic acid, there is nothing left for unwanted bacteria to feed upon, and the remaining curd stabilises.
When we consume milk, our small intestines break lactose down into other sugars by the action of an enzyme called lactase. Most mammals stop producing this enzyme when they are weaned, but humans can continue to produce lactase throughout their lives.
Lactose intolerance occurs when people stop producing the lactase enzyme. Lactose intolerant people cannot drink animal milk in any quantity without experiencing health issues. Generally they can tolerate small quantities of ordinary full-cream milk better than modern low fat milks, which are often boosted with skim milk powder, containing extra lactose.
Contrary to popular belief, cooked pressed cheeses contain little-to-no lactose, as most of it is drained off with the whey. People with lactose intolerance should avoid Ricotta, which is made from whey, as well as fresh cheeses where the whey is only partially drained (Mozzarella and Feta).
Cheddars aged over six months will be fine. Aged hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano is a perfect cheese for the lactose intolerant as its age is two-years plus. Aged cheeses like Comté d'Estive or other hard cheeses aged at least six months (one-year plus is even better) are fine.
Finally, everything to do with intolerance to cheese has a beginning, and in many cases it is the starter – the yoghurt mixture that starts the curdling process. The sort of starter used can affect the way you react. Finding cheeses that have had a starter made from the previous day's milk – as opposed to a manufactured one – are much better, as it is a more natural path for the cheesemaking to follow. A farmhouse-made cheese has a much slower and less invasive production process, with less salt used as an additive and preservative. This is yet another reason we champion the small producer with careful monitored processes; not only do the cheeses taste better, they are also better for your health.
I'M HOSTING A DINNER PARTY; HOW MUCH CHEESE SHOULD I BUY?
Obviously a number of factors determine the amount of cheese you should purchase – are you eating only cheese? Will the cheeses be served after multiple courses? Is everyone eating cheese? – however for a cheese board comprised of five cheeses we usually recommend between thirty and fifty grams per cheese per person. To the non-cheesemonger this is obviously a vague number, however one of the cheesemongers in the room will be able to show you what it looks like and how to divide it. If you are after just one cheese, the weight goes up to between 100 and 200 grams per person. The golden number for Raclette and fondue is between 200 and 300 grams per person.
However like most things cheese related, these are all approximate numbers, and it is perhaps best to discuss in situ with your cheesemonger. We in The Cheese Room like the phrase 'little and often.' It is not in our best interest to sell you too much, as the leftover cheese will fade in quality, and we would rather you eat everything in its best condition. Domestic fridges tend to dehydrate, and cool cellars – where cheese is best stored – are less and less common. In the event that you have leftover cheese, please do not hesitate to contact us and inquire on ideas. We spend a good portion of our days discussing cooking amongst ourselves, and we are delighted to make suggestions.
SHOULD I EVER FREEZE MY CHEESE?
No. However if you are left with a great deal of a hard cheese (such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Gruyère) and wish to save it for cooking, first grate the cheese and then place it in a sealed plastic bag before freezing.
CAN I EAT THE RIND?
Ask. But usually the answer is yes. Obviously we do not recommend gnawing the rind of a Gouda, but most rinds are edible. Even the hard ones. Especially the goat ones. It becomes tricky (and this is why you should ask ) with cheeses like the Lincolnshire Poacher Double Barrel, which has been coated in a material called 'plasticote,' inconspicuously sealing the cheese in the Dutch style. More than anything it is a personal choice. Many of us in The Cheese Room nibble on a bit of the rind to understand the subtler flavours of the pate. One can often taste hints of the cellars and maturing rooms in which the cheeses have been aged.