Have you ever not been told something was the case, but you always thought it was so? I guess that's a "hunch" that I'm talking about. I always thought cheeses tasted better at room temperature but I had never heard definitively that cheeses were supposed to be served at room temperature. Well, now I have.
Many years ago I had a customer who told me he left his cheeses out of refrigeration for three days prior to eating them. He said he had lived in Italy for a number of years and, I guess, that's what they did over there. That fella ended up moving back to Italy.
Yesterday a couple was here and they too talked about leaving their cheeses out for an extended time before getting into them. So I decided to look into the subject just to learn from experts in the field what is right and proper and what may be considered questionable. Here's what I learned:
Fresh cheeses like Ricotta and Mascarpone and, of course, Fresh Mozzarella should be kept refrigerated and consumed within a half hour of leaving the fridge and then whatever is left should promptly be returned there.
Bries and other "bloomy rind" cheeses need at least a half hour at room temperature to show their best. Straight out of the fridge brie can be rubbery and flavorless but once it's warmed up, it's soft, creamy and luscious. One half hour is actually a good minimal estimate for most cheeses to warm up from refrigerated conditions. Because of the extra moisture in soft cheeses, they are susceptible to bacteria and should be returned to refrigeration in two or three hours.
Harder cheeses are just fine at room temperature (70 degrees or lower) for an extended time. Parmesan may comfortably be left out for eight hours or more. One expert I consulted validates my Italian friend's claims - just go ahead and keep your hard cheeses at room temperature. Or optimally wine cellarize your cheese if you can - keep it between 45 and 60 degrees. Another says if you forget it on the counter overnight from last night's soiree, have it for breakfast! Several food writers say the worst thing about cheese that's been left out is it's appearance. It can get grotey to look at.
So what are we talking about here? A good part of this discussion is about "fat". Cheese is fatty and fat is flavor. Refrigerators are actually too cold for cheese and the fat molecules contract. Once the cheese warms up the fat molecules relax and the flavors become amplified.
So, you know that household chore you've been putting off for so long? Set your favorite cheese out on the counter. Salivate. Then tell yourself you can't get into it till your chore is done. Now that's incentive!
Join us at 5pm this Thursday for our weekly wine tasting. We will be sure to have room temperature cheeses ready for you and because all cheeses are different, their fat molecules should show a spectrum of contrasting flavors.