As a living, breathing food, Cheese has a culture all its own. And it’s a mystery to many. I know this because as a cheesemonger, I hear the same questions and concerns over and over, every day, from customers. Here are five of the most common misconceptions I encounter at the counter that I need to constantly debunk.
All cheese must be refrigerated
Eventually, yes. Softer cheeses such as brie, blue, and washed rind are too perishable for a road trip, but harder cheeses are perfect for tossing in your backpack for a hike or short road trip. Generally, any firm Cheddar is a good choice. Others to consider are Vella Dry Jack and aged goudas, including Waag and Beemster’s 26-month.
American cheese is just a cellophane-wrapped sheet of orange Frankenfood
Emphatically, I say NO! Artisan cheesemakers in the United States have been producing an array of award-winning cheeses for years. In fact, in 2019, Rogue River Blue from Oregon’s Rogue Creamery took the top prize at the World Cheese Awards in Italy. Other impressive American cheeses include Alpha Tolman and Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont; Wabash Cannonball from Capriole Goat Cheeses in Indiana; and Original Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese in California.
Cut away the rind or don’t cut away the rind
Cheesemongers have a saying: “All rinds are edible, but not all rinds are palatable.” The exterior of a washed rind cheese will have a different flavor from the paste inside, but the two complement one other. The exception is gouda. You quit eating crayons a long time ago—at least, I assume you did—so definitely discard the wax from your gouda. With all other cheeses, it’s entirely up to you. That said, if you don’t like the rind, don’t eat it! Some are too tough to bite into, although in the case of aged cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, those hard rinds can be saved in the freezer and tossed into the soup pot to enrich your soup’s flavor and texture.
All mold is bad
With the exception of fresh cheeses like ricotta, chevre, and mozzarella, most cheeses rely on mold to make them the swoon-worthy puddles of lusciousness we so love. Unwanted molds grow in moist environments, so the harder the cheese, the less likely it is to spoil. Bad mold on cheese is uncommon, but if you happen to spy a piece with black-gray mold, toss it. As for other molds, they may not make you sick, but they don’t taste good and may detract from your cheese-eating experience. If you find a bit of mold on your Cheddar, Parm, or gouda, just cut it away.
All cheese contains lactose
All cheese starts out containing lactose, but the longer the cheese ages, the less lactose it retains. During the cheesemaking process, lactose is converted into lactic acid. The minuscule amount remaining is broken down by glycolysis during aging. Essentially, the lactose in your cheese is pre-digested! If you have lactose issues, play it safe with aged cheeses like Piave DOP, Locatelli Pecorino Romano, Asiago DOP, and Grana Padano DOP.