Serve all cheeses at room temperature! Remove cheeses from the refrigerator at least an hour before serving. Hard cheeses take longer to reach room temperature. As a rustic peasant food, cheese displays well on wood, marble, or stone boards, surrounded by fruits (the simplest being a bunch of grapes), nuts, crusty bread, and wine. Try to avoid cubing or slicing in advance, and put out one cheese knife or cheese plane per cheese. For a big crowd, where self-service is key, you may pre-slice or pre-cube, but the cheese will dry out quickly and, as a display technique, it’s fairly “cheesy.” If you must pre-cut cheese, use a covered cheese dome.
In terms of storing cheese, the smartest thing you can do is to purchase only the amount of cheese that you will be using within a few days. If you must store them longer, wrap the cheeses individually and tightly in clean plastic wrap. Store in a location where the temperature is consistent, such as the vegetable bin of the refrigerator; use it as soon as possible.
The shelf life of any cheese depends on the type of cheese. The softer the cheese, the shorter its life. Very soft cheeses should be used within a few days. More substantial fresh cheeses will usually keep for one to two weeks after opening. Semi-soft cheeses will usually last for about a month.
Harder cheeses will last for months; in fact, they will continue to age, albeit slowly, in your refrigerator. Extra-hard cheeses such as Parmigiano-Reggiano can be kept for extended periods, even years, if properly wrapped.
Cheese Board/Cheese Course
Some basic things to consider when serving a cheese course:
Mold on Cheese
Mold spores are airborne and a natural part of the environment. If cheese is left unwrapped, especially in a humid environment, it will mold quickly and naturally. If your cheese develops a bit of extra mold, don’t worry, just cut it off with a clean knife. If there is a lot of mold, it is a good practice to clean your knife intermittently while cutting away the mold so that you don’t re-inoculate the cheese with mold as you cut. The general rule is cut ¼ inch to ½ inch deeper than the mold so that the contaminated cheese is cut away and discarded.
Uncooked and unripened lactic curds, usually moist and mild.
Soft-Ripened or Bloomy Rind
Semi-soft consistency with surfaces exposed to molds that cause them to ripen inward.
Treated or cured by being brushed, rubbed, washed, or immersed in brine of salt, wine, beer, or grape brandy, to promote desirable exterior mold that produces a pronounced flavor.
Self-formed rind, no micro-flora or mold or washing of their thin exterior.
Curds remain uncooked. Whey is removed by pressing the cheeses to complete drainage, thus achieving a firm texture.
Semi-Hard and Hard
These are also cooked and pressed, with or without rinds, and either smooth textured or “holey”, open textured. Usually aged 1-2 years, even up to 6 years, like aged Gouda.
These are marbled with blue-green mold throughout the interior and are intensely flavored.
Nuts — Almonds help bring out the subtleties of cheese flavor and aroma. Toasted hazelnuts and walnuts work interchangeably with cheese, and pecans go well with sweet or unctuous cheeses.
Olives — Olives naturally complement sheep’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses.
Chutney — Chutneys are a tasty alternative that meld nicely with the texture and nuances of English farmhouse cheeses.
Fruit — Experiment with dried fruits such as raisins, figs, dates, and any variety of berries.
Meat — Serve thin slices of prosciutto, Serrano ham, and sweet or spicy salamis, especially with aged cheeses such as pecorino and manchego.
Crackers & Breads — If you choose to serve crackers, pick unsalted ones, but bread is a must; you can never go wrong with a baguette.