This is one of the most common questions that I and, I suspect, my fellow cheesemongers field on a daily basis. It is a good question to ask because how you store your cheese can profoundly affect both its flavor and longevity.
One of the most important components to proper cheese storage is what you wrap your cheese in. Here at Formaggio Kitchen, we wrap cheese in a special type of paper that is imported from France. The paper is lined with a thin sheet, allowing the cheese to breath a bit while at the same time retaining its moisture. This differs greatly from plastic wrap which not only imparts a plastic flavor to your cheese but also prevents it from breathing at all. The cheeses on our cheese wall are wrapped in plastic so that you can see what they look like. However, every morning when the cheese wall goes up, the faces of our cheeses are cleaned and re-wrapped in order to prevent that plastic taste from permeating the cheese. Better than plastic wrap but not as optimal as the cheese paper, is tin foil or parchment paper. I would recommend using either of these in preference to plastic wrap if you do not have cheese paper.
Once you have wrapped your cheese for storage, what should you do with it next? I recommend keeping it in the fridge, preferably in your vegetable drawer. For one, the vegetable drawer is generally not near your freezer section and you do not want your cheese to be in the coldest part of the fridge. Essentially, you are trying to mimic the conditions of a cheese cave – cool with a bit of humidity. In addition to being more temperate, the vegetable drawer (perhaps due to the moisture of the veggies?) also seems to be a bit moister than the rest of the fridge… In general, refrigerators tend to dry things out – storing your cheese in the vegetable drawer should, however, slow the process a bit. The third good thing about the vegetable drawer is that it serves as a protective unit, preventing your cheese from absorbing the odors or flavors of other strong smelling items in your fridge. Conversely, if you are storing a “stinky” washed-rind cheese, you will be protecting your other foods from absorbing those smells and flavors. Eggs, for example, are quite porous and easily absorb the flavors of things placed in close proximity.
In an effort to simulate the conditions of a cave, I have also heard of some folks dedicating a Tupperware container (or something similar) to cheese storage. Lining the container with damp paper towels and poking holes in the top (to allow for air circulation) seems to do the trick for some. I have never done this myself because, to be honest, cheese never lasts long enough in my fridge to make it worthwhile! This actually begs another point – it is generally better to buy smaller amounts of cheese more often than to try to store large amounts of cheese for extended periods of time. Smaller quantities will ensure that you get the full flavor benefit from your cheese.
Occasionally, I have customers who ask if they should store their cheeses under a cheese dome on their counter-top… In the winter, you can get away with this (if you live in New England and don’t crank the heat!) but, in general, I recommend the fridge. Ideally, however, it is best to take the cheese out of the fridge an hour or two before you serve it (depending on the season and how warm you keep your home) in order for it to come to room temperature. If your cheese comes straight out of the fridge, you will not get the full benefit of its flavor. As with wine, excessive chilling dulls flavor – but, if you give the cheese a chance to come to room temperature, its flavor opens up and the difference between cold and room-temperature cheese can be quite striking both in terms of taste as well as texture.