The Grumpy Old Man

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I hate it when my cheese goes fousty in the fridge

Cheese, Gordon Bennett, I just love the stuff, the trouble is, there are invariably only two sorts available where we live.

Our local supermarket displays meters of shelves loaded with a plastic concoction that they call cheddar cheese which I find largely inedible. It comes in square blocks, thin slices, grated in packets, sometimes it's called mild, sometimes mature and it even comes in a couple of different colours. I have tried various selections from this huge array of 'stuff' and found all of it without fail uniformly dull, plastic and invariably tasteless. The ones that are called mature are usually so grossly over salted that they are not only inedible but should carry a health warning. The effort to produce something with a real 'Taste' seems an absolute anathema to the producers of this rubbish. How in the world they have the nerve to call it "cheddar" I don't know (I suppose they justify calling it "cheddar" by referring to the process by which it is made.) It actually bears little resemblance to the real McCoy that has been made for years near Cheddar in Somerset. As usual I am sure calling it 'cheddar' is a marketing ploy to infer that it is something that it is definitely not and never will be.

I must confess, I am absolutely astounded that in a large dairy producing country like Ireland, there is such an abysmal choice of real, tasty, indiginous cheese in the local shops. Decent specialist cheese shops are very thin on the ground. And, against the background of the huge variety of cheeses that we should be able to purchase I find this situation absolutely appalling. Very occasionally I can pick up a bit of blue cheese, which is smashing. Or just occasionally I may be lucky enough to find a Wensleydale cheese. Even that has frequently been invaded by chives or little bits of dried fruit. Why we cannot enjoy the flavour of the basic unadulterated cheese itself remains a mystery. I suspect that these additives have been put in because the cheese itself does not exhibit any of the basic taste characteristics of the variety it purports to be. At the end of the day, all we can taste with these concoctions is the additives, rather than the subtleties of the cheese itself.

As a cheeseaholic, my cravings sometimes drive me to purchase the rubbish about which I complain. However, I find it increasingly annoying and frustrating that, once unwrapped, although I store it in a sealed container in the fridge, after less than a week it has usually gone green and 'orrible with mould growth.

So, you might say, what is wrong with that? My cheese does exactly the same! Well, if you think about it, I would suggest that it shouldn't. After all, what is cheese? It is actually a method of preserving that complete food, milk, for use later in the year when the animals' milk supply has dried up. It is a 'process' that is used around the world. Where there is milk, you will find a cheese. It is made from the milk of cows, goats, sheep, buffalos, yaks and probably most other lactating animals. It also comes in veritable plethora of flavours, textures, shapes and sizes! So if it is a method of preserving food for the leaner times, one hardly wants it to develop funny mould!

I was curious about this so I contacted an old friend who makes a lot of the high volume "factory" cheese in Somerset. It seems this commercially manufactured cheese is packed in a special inert atmosphere to obviate mould growth. The minute the cheese is taken out of its plastic wrapper, it is exposed to naturally ocurring mould spores in the atmosphere and hence the mould growth.

To be quite frank with you, this air tight wrapping is not necessary. I was recently lucky enough to be given for my birthday a truckle of Artisan Lancashire cheese, some of which I have had before. It is absolutely scrummy. It is not wrapped in an air tight plastic wrap, it comes in its own cheesecloth. (Dare I ask 'is that why it is called CHEESE cloth?') This cloth allows it to breathe. With the cheese come instructions on how to keep it.

These are to keep it at twelve degrees (yes, warmer than your average fridge), on an unsealed wooden board (this allows it to breathe, an impervious surface will make it sweat on the bottom), turn it regularly (ensures the moisture is kept properly distributed) and wipe occasionally with a damp cloth. There will be a very modest amount of mould growth but this is removed by the damp cloth in the maturation process. Which just goes to prove that any decent cheese doesn't need to go green and nasty in the fridge. In fact a "proper" cheese should not kept in the fridge at all.

I suppose this is what granny used the granite slab in her larder for. Now there is another highly useful item and space that modern progress has thrown away as 'progress' which has, in Grumpy's view, become synonymous in with pure ignorance.

Thus my Artisan Lancashire cheese doesn't seem so prone to cultivating vaste quantities of green and yellow mould! Or perhaps I'm just eating it faster!

So, if cheese is a method of preserving food for leaner times, why does it have to be wrapped in plastic? My experience is, by sealing it like this you halt the natural sealing and maturation processes. Take the plastic off and all sorts of organisms have a ball and generate all this 'orrible mould.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the plastic is there for purely commercial purposes, ie it is a cheap means of wrapping this quick turn over, tasteless rubbish. The fact that it does not do the job properly is ignored! As for the miniscule sizes into which the cheese is cut, well, I am sure that is the marketing man again, trying to increase his profit margins.