Being nicknamed “The Cheese Guy,” I naturally get asked cheese questions on a daily basis. The most frequently asked question by far: “Where’s the best place to buy cheese?” It’s certainly a great question (with many subjective answers), but a better question would be: “How do you buy cheese the right way and keep it in peak condition?” In the name of enjoying the subtle flavors of every cheese when it’s at its best, here are my suggestions.
How to Buy
You may think buying good cheese is simple now that we have so many different specialty food choices at our fingertips, but think again. If you’re a discerning cheese-buyer, there are a few rules you must follow. For starters: always buy cheese from a cheese shop or specialty grocer. This may be a no-brainer, but it’s rare to find truly great cheese at a regular grocery store. Be sure to shop at a busy store, since they sell through their cheeses faster, thus their offerings will be fresher. Also, take a look around the cheese cutting area to make sure it’s super clean. And play to the shop’s strength – buy mozzarella at a store that features Italian cheeses, buy dry Jack from a shop that prides itself on its American selections.
Once you’ve found a retailer you like, develop a relationship with one of their knowledgeable (and, hopefully, passionate) cheesemongers. Sounds like overkill? Not at all! Good cheesemongers love to talk about cheese, so don’t be shy. As you become more comfortable with their recommendations and better able to define your own taste preferences, ask them for their suggestions. Be open minded and a bit adventurous.
Some great specific questions to ask: Which cheeses do you sell a lot of? What cheeses are new and exciting? Which wheels have you recently cut? Which cheeses are you currently eating?
If possible, try not to buy precut cheese, but politely ask the monger to cut you a piece to order. If they won’t, it’s a red flag – yes, it’s that important.
The final thing to keep in mind when buying cheese is that the cheeses a shop chooses not to sell are just as important as the cheeses they do. Selling only high-quality cheeses is an indicator of a retailer’s focus and standards; selling a mixture of great cheeses and sub-par cheeses shows a lack of commitment to excellence.
How to Store
Don’t worry – storing cheese is much easier than purchasing it proficiently!
Follow these suggestions and you’ll be able to enjoy your cheese at its finest. Just think: it may mean a bit of extra effort, but shouldn’t you eat cheese only when it’s at its prime?