Cheese preservation remains somewhat of a mystery to even the most avid specialty cheese fans. The reason is simple enough — cheese is a complex, fermented food. There are hundreds of variations to choose from; what's the best way to maintain each one for future enjoyment?
The answer may end up a fixture on your kitchen countertop. Late last year cheese expert Jessica Sennett introduced the world to the Cheese Grotto — a meticulously detailed and elegant bamboo case that creates a controlled climate for preserving cheese, no wrapping necessary. Think of it as a humidor for cheese, sized to fit perfectly next to your toaster or in the fridge.
We sat down with Jessica to get her take on cheese preservation, and how she designed the Cheese Grotto to help extend the life of cheese and enhance the intended flavor profile.
1. Controlling humidity
"Humidity, as cheese specialist Max McCalman puts it, is the most important component of successful cheese preservation. At the bottom of the Grotto is a clay brick piece that helps maintains an optimal base level of 75% humidity. Cheese can be stored anywhere from 75% to 99% humidity."
2. Maintain a fresh air supply
"That humidity needs to be tempered with fresh air to keep cheese fresh and not overly damp. Because cheese is fermented, it slowly releases ammonia as it ripens; fresh air helps regulate the rate of this fermentation, keeping your cheese fresher for longer. The Grotto regulates airflow with ventilation ducts in the rear of the humidor."
3. Circulating air
"It's all good and well to get fresh air supply for your stored cheeses, but if the air does not have a passage to travel around the cheese, or does so too aggressively, then your cheese may become too damp or too dry. In the Grotto, there are architectural details to promote that passage of air."
4. Keeping it cool
"Temperature controls the rate at which cheese ripens. My rule of thumb is to keep cheese stored below 70 degrees. Any warmer, and the cheeses will sweat and seep butterfat. The Cheese Grotto can be stored virtually anywhere that meets that under 70 degree rule — in the fridge, in the wine cellar, or even on the kitchen counter."
5. Embracing mold
"People cry over moldy cheese, and then throw it away. But there are a handful of surface molds that are fine to eat! White and blue molds on the surface of a cut cheese are harmless and can easily be shaved off to reveal delicious cheese underneath. The same molds can appear on cheese rinds, and actually serve to enhance the interior flavor of cheese wheels. Orange hued bacteria that develops on bloomy rind cheese reflects the cheese’s peak flavor and complexity: in fact, it is a desirable characteristic on traditional French Brie."