The Pleasure of Buying Cheese

“Cheese gives me much pleasure. Part of that pleasure comes from knowing a little more about it every day. And part of the pleasure comes from providing people with a place to buy cheeses that will take them back to another place, another time.” Kathleen Fagan Riegler, Founder “The Cheese Lady”

As a cheesemonger and co-owner of a local cheese shop, I can attest that the statement above rings so true! It is about the relationships that we cultivate and nurture with our customers. Whether assisting customers in selecting a variety of cheeses for a soiree, finding a particular cheese to melt beautifully in a fondue pot, or selecting just the right blue cheese, these are truly the pleasures we enjoy.

I hear you: you love cheese. But, do you know how to buy cheese?  Buying cheese these days can be challenging as well as more fun than ever just because of the sheer number of choices in cheese shops as well the increasing number of grocery stores that carry a wider variety of cheeses. If you find buying cheese intimidating, you are not alone. Where do you start?

The next time you have a craving for some delicious cheese, consider these few simple steps.

1.At Your Local Cheese Shop

If you ask advice at the local wine shop, start thinking the same way about cheese. Specialty cheese shops are the most shopper-friendly places to buy cheese. There you will find most cheeses in excellent condition, because of quick turnaround and well trained staff taking care of them. Cheesemongers love to talk about cheese. Make friends with them and start asking questions.

2.What Questions? There Is No ‘Dumb’ Question.

Sound cliché, yes? But is absolutely true and normal to be self-conscious. The setting at the cheese shop’s counter is where you can have conversation with knowledgeable persons who can point you to great choices. Never be afraid to ask for a taste. If you don’t have time or the shop is really busy, tell the cheesemonger your very favorite cheese as a starting point. Buy small pieces of several different cheeses and taste them at home. Ask for recommendations, and try new varieties. Ask for advice on what preserves, syrups or oils as well as which wine or beer to pair with the cheese.

3.Pre-Cut VS Cut To Order

If possible, do not buy pre-cut cheese. There is a way to have your cheese cut to order to your specifications. Pre-cut cheese is easily dried out and often loses flavor, not to mention trapped moisture under the plastic wrapping. Some freshly wrapped cut cheeses are generally okay.  If you are going to pay for a product, you want it in its best and most natural state and the best way is when the cheese is cut from the wheel.

4.Be Curious and Ask For Tastings

The only way to know for sure is to taste. Don’t be a creature of habit. Promise yourself that every time you go into the cheese shop that you will try one different cheese. Take a chance and taste a cheese that is different from the ones you usually buy. This is a fun and rewarding way to expand your taste horizons and increase your cheese knowledge.

5.Know Main Milk Types (goat, sheep or cow) & Different Textures (soft, semi-soft, hard).

Each of the three main milks has its own unique characteristics and flavor profiles. Do you like the buttery richness of cow’s milk, the tang of goat’s milk or the mellow nuttiness of sheep’s milk cheese? The texture of cheese can run the gamut from extremely hard and granular to runny brie (texture and mouth-feel is important to the overall flavor profile).

6.Try Same Cheese From Different Places

Just like wine, the flavor is affected by “terroir”–the climate, the slope of the pasture land, the feeding, breed of animals all factor in to the final flavor profile of the cheese. Parmesan-style cheese from, South America will taste very different from Parmigiano Reggiano. English cheeses will have a sweeter note than those made in America or Canada. Aged goat cheese from France has brighter tastes compared to rich and fatty Spanish Goat Cheese.

As there are thousands of varieties of cheese out there and possibly close to a hundred or more at a Cheese Shop or at Grocery Store, finding and selecting cheese is an adventure. And can be a fun one! In a couple of weeks I will talk about varieties of cheeses!

Cheesemonger: A person who sells cheese, butter, and other dairy products.

This article was published at THE LEDGER, MARCH 2, 2017