Room Temperature

Of the most frequently asked questions we get in the Cheese Shop, few top how to store cheese at home.  While this is of obvious importance, I always take this chance to plug what I think might be even more significant: how to best eat the cheese.

One of the very first pieces I read when I came to the Creamery- the essay below, written by Zingerman’s Co-founder Ari Weinzweig, is all about how to best serve cheese, at room temperature.  It really is striking what a difference this one little step can make in the flavor of the cheese you serve.  I make it a rule to pull cheese out of my fridge a good half-hour before it is to be noshed.  And for much of the year I leave most cheeses I bring home on my kitchen counter under a glass dome.  This gives me ready-to-eat cheese at all times (albeit I may have a slight cheese-addiction).

Anyway, without further ado, here is Ari’s piece entitled:

Serving Cheese at Room Temperature

Even though I know fully well that cheese tastes better at room temp than it does right out of the cooler, I’ve been reminded of this issue a lot of late and I figured I’d be smart to actually say what I’ve been thinking so others can share in it. So, as you know, cheese tastes better at room temperature. While the difference is marked with any cheese, the increase in flavor is even bigger when you’re working with really great, full flavored artisan cheeses as we are.

My own experience with this have come from recently tasting two of the Creamery’s cheeses – Bridgewater (the double cream cow’s milk laced with Telicherry black peppercorns) and the Lincoln Log (a Bucheron-style log of goat cheese aged for about four weeks) – when they were cold and then, not long thereafter, tasting them again when they were at about room temperature. I didn’t plan to do any experiment or anything – it just sort of happened by coincidence. But, even knowing that there should be a big difference between the cold cheese and the warmer one, I was still blown away by just how much more interesting the cheeses that we were tasting at room temperature.

Mind you, it’s not like the cheese that’s cold is bad or inedible. It’s just that when we eat it that way, we really are missing out on about half the flavor, if not more. Eating cheese at 35°F is like eating potatoes without salt – you certainly get the idea, but you’ll never grasp the true greatness of the food. Getting cheese to the right temperature is always worth the few minutes of advance work it takes. It really just tastes infinitely better that way.

That’s not the whole story though. Because my belated glimpse of the obvious about the room temperature thing is that it’s particularly critical when we’re tasting NEW cheeses. I mean it’s always important. But there’s far less of a long term consequence when people eat a cheese that they know well but is being served cold because they’ve usually already decided that they like the cheese and aren’t really making a life call on whether or not it’s a cheese they’re going to eat again. BUT when people try a new cheese – like a new restaurant – they’re coming at their eating experience a bit skeptically. And when that first experience is suboptimal they’re likely to never return to try the new cheese again. After all, who needs another cheese? Answer, “no one.” There are plenty of good cheeses to go around.

So… what can we do about this?

Do our best to bring tastes of cheese that are already at room temperature. Or if we can’t, at least put things in context for the guest, by stating up front, “This is still sort of cold so the flavors may be a bit muted.” And once we’ve sold cheese it’s always worth reminding our guests to let their cheese at home come to room temperature before they serve it there.

Seriously, the entire experience is radically altered depending on the temperature. So… please help everyone remember that it’s worth planning ahead a bit to make this happen… If you doubt this difference, do the experiment for yourself and see what you think. I’ll tell you that while the Bridgewater and the Lincoln Log were both very good when they were still cold, at room temp they were really fantastic. The texture opens up and becomes infinitely creamier on the tongue, lighter, flakey, fluffy, and the flavor is just so much bigger, smoother, more interesting.

Thanks Ari!