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Call me picky, but I prefer my greens to be those of the garden variety, not those growing on my cheese.

Don't you just hate when that happens? You buy a block of cheese and before you can use it up, it turns into something that looks more like a science fair project than a tasty dairy product.

I'll admit it. Back in my carefree spendthrift days, I'd toss the cheese in the garbage when it turned moldy. Ick. I was oblivious to the fact that I might as well be throwing dollar bills away.

True, we could opt for buying just a few slices at a time from the deli counter, but that's too expensive. And unnecessary. I can save more than $2 a pound off the best price at the supermarket if I buy in bulk from a discount warehouse like Sam's Club or Costco. And that presents a storage challenge.

Whoever said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," must have been a deli owner. Think about it. With all that cheese in those cases, have you ever seen one growing green mold? Never.

All I know about the proper care and handling of cheese I learned from one such person. That kind deli owner introduced me to the two archenemies of cheese: air and bacteria.

OUNCE OF PREVENTION

Air. Limit exposure to air and you can greatly extend the life of any type of cheese. Keep hard cheeses like cheddar or Monterey Jack tightly wrapped with plastic wrap.

Bacteria. We know that it takes bacteria to make cheese in the first place, but that is much different than the kind of bacteria on your hands.

Rule One of Mold Prevention: Each time you open it, reseal it as tightly and completely as possible. That takes care of the air problem.

Rule Two: Don't touch the cheese! Even when you wash your hands well, some amount of bacteria remains, and while it's not at all harmful to you or the cheese, that's what gets that green thing going.

Either wear food preparation gloves or make sure the plastic is always creating a barrier between your hands and the portion of the cheese that's going back into the refrigerator.

POUND OF CURE

For cheese that has already turned, there are a couple of remedies.

Vinegar. You can actually wipe the mold away with a clean cloth you've dipped into white vinegar. Not the most pleasant job, but it does work to save the cheese.

Cut it out. Another useful technique is to simply cut away the moldy parts. Once all the green is gone, treat this as you would a new block of cheese by following the two rules above.

Bonus. I'll close today's column with a bonus tip that will at least double the shelf life of cottage cheese. Once opened, stir in a pinch of salt. That slows the growth of bacteria without affecting the taste. Seal the lid, and then store it upside down in the refrigerator. This will seal out the air.

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