Fresh specialty cheeses should be used as soon as possible after purchase for best quality results. Once home, treat them as a priority item and refrigerate quickly due to their high perishability. Once cut or opened, the unused portion should be wrapped airtight in plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator to be eaten within five days, or as specified. Production dates of fresh cheeses usually appear on the package.
Aged cheeses have a longer shelf life, once refrigerated, but should be eaten soon after purchase for best results. Any mold appearing on the cheese should be cut off and discarded. Wrap airtight in plastic wrap and store to use as you would Cheddar or Jack cheese. Cheese that develops an unsavory odor and begins to show signs of "weeping" should be discarded. Aged cheeses store well in the refrigerator from three to four weeks, depending on the cheese and its condition.
References to "blooming rind" indicates a soft-textured cheese that has been sprayed with Penicillium Candidum to create a growth of white mold on the surface. On young cheeses, the mold is pure white and darkens to amber or brown as cheese ages, as in Brie and Camembert.
Double cream (creme) cheeses are those with a minimum of 60% butterfat content, while triple cream cheeses contain at least 70% butterfat.
Fresh cheese indicates that the cheese is unripened or barely ripened, as in cottage cheese.
The word paste refers to body or interior of the cheese.
Rind is the exterior of a cheese.
"Washed rind" means that the cheeses have been treated with brine, plain water, beer or brandies to encourage bacterial growth. The rind may range from pale yellow to pale red, as in Reblochon.
Most fresh cheeses (except for creams) contain fewer calories than aged or firm cheeses made with high fat content. On the average, fresh cheeses contain about 150 to 250 calories per 100 grams, while aged cheese contain about 300 to 400 calories per 100 grams, depending on butterfat content.
The following are some specialty cheeses available at cheese shops and supermarkets:
Asiago D'Allevo (cow's milk cheese): Used for eating up to 6 months, but mainly for grating.
Parmigiano Reggiano (cow's milk cheese): This hard, natural-rind cheese with the words Parmigiano Reggiano stamped out in dots throughout the cheese, is excellent for grating and cooking in pasta and other sauced dishes or salads and soups. Especially high quality milk is used for Reggiano; Parmigiano Reggiano is monitored carefully under Ministerial Decree. Year and month of production and name and registration number of manufacturer are also marked on the rind. No other cheese can carry the label Parmigiano Reggiano.
Pecorino Romano (full cream ewe's milk): This hard, boiled cheese is compact with whitish, smooth clean rind. It is used at the table for grating over pasta, salads, soups, or rice, especially throughout Southern Italy.
Pecorino Siciliano (full cream ewe's milk): This compact cheese made exclusively in Sicily, has a white rind and white flesh with a few holes. Strong flavored, it is used for eating out of hand or grating after ripening several months. Sometimes found peppered in a truncated cone shape, but otherwise cylindrical.
Ragusano (full cream cow's milk): This hard, stringy cheese from Sicily is salted in brine and used as a table cheese and for grating.
Caciotta (cow's or ewe's milk): From Central Italy, caciotta , probably derived from the word caclo meaning cheese, is produced throughout Italy with the best produced in Urbino, Umbria, Assisi, Norcia, Cascia, Tuscany and Rome. The cheese has a thin rind and flesh that is somewhat soft with a few holes. It is used mainly for eating with fruit or as snacks.
Caciocavallo (full cream cow's milk): Also from Central South Italy, this hard, stringy cheese curdled by acid fermentation is compact, with a mild delicate flavor although the grating type is stronger in flavor. It is generally used for eating or grating. In cooking, it is used as you would Pecorino. It can be roasted, grilled, pan-fried or drizzled with olive oil and spices. It also can be used in pies and goes well with fried vegetables.
Fontina (full cream cow's milk): From the Valle D'Aosta region, this round loaf with flat sides has an esteemed place in regional Valle D'Aosta cuisine and the name is protected by Ministerial Decree. It is a high fat variety cheese from once-milked cows and produced by natural fermentation. Soft in texture, it melts easily and has a mild and delicate flavor. Use it as a table cheese with or without fruit and wine.