These tips are from Paxton and Whitfield, Winston Churchill’s favourite cheese shop, and if ever you’re near Jermyn Street in London we recommend you visit.
Where to store
If you are lucky enough to have a cool, humid cellar look no further. If not, try any unheated part of the house; a garage, shed, window sill and, of course, the refrigerator. If you store your cheese in your fridge, it’s best to store it in the salad drawer at the bottom,
which is usually a slightly higher temperature and as a confined space keeps up the humidity. Don’t keep the salad in the same drawer though as salad leaves can pose a cross contamination threat to the cheese.
Some cheeses are better being stored cold, others are better slightly warmer; it depends on the type of cheese and its stage of maturity. Most cheeses that arrive with you are fine to be kept at cold to cool temperatures, an average fridge being at the cold end of the scale and a pantry being at the warmer end. Remember that at lower temperatures the ripening / maturing process will be slowed down and at warmer temperatures the cheese will continue to mature.
Hard cheeses are more resilient to temperature changes, soft cheeses are generally better at the lower end of the temperature range.
Nearly all cheeses like a moist atmosphere, 80% relative humidity is ideal. A humid cellar is often ideal, as is the dairy or salad drawer in your fridge, but if this is not possible cover the cheese with a clean, damp cloth or keep the cheese in a container which prevents moisture escaping, for example a cheese bell or cardboard box. Too dry an atmosphere will mean the cheese will crack; too moist an atmosphere and mould growth is encouraged. Moulds are part of the natural development of cheese and often enhance their flavour but scrape them off if they look unattractive.
The waxed paper in which we supply our cheese does a good job at keeping the cheese in the right condition. It allows the cheese to breathe but not to dry out too quickly. Cling film, if used for any length of time, tends to allow too much moisture to build up, encouraging moulds to grow on the surface of the cheese. If you do use cling film, cover only the cut surface, allowing the rind to breathe and use a new piece every time you open it. Kitchen foil is good for wrapping moist blue cheeses.
Shelf life and storage
With individual cheeses you can expect a natural shelf life as indicated by the Use By / Best Before Date on the packaging. With hard cut cheeses (including robust blues like Stilton), if carefully wrapped and stored in waxed paper, you will be able to keep the cheese for a minimum of a week and following the guidance above, often longer.
Serving your cheese
Always take the cheese out of the fridge or cool storage at least a couple of hours before serving it to bring it to room temperature. Cut the cheese in such a way as to leave as small a cut surface as possible. Small amounts of cheese tend to dry up quickly so try to finish up small pieces.