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Questions about storing Parmesan and using a piece turned to stone

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  • nemo Oct 30, 2011 11:00 PM
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I get a nice wedge of Parmesan, use half of it for the recipe I'm making, wrap in plastic and store in a covered container in the fridge. The next time I take it out (admittedly, maybe a month or two or, gulp, maybe more later), it's turned to stone. Literally. If you tap it with a metal spoon, it rings like granite. What can I do with it? I've tried using a microplane but only get powdered sugar type gratings, and it would take forever to go that route. I can't get a knife into it at all to break it up for the processor. I did try the throw-it-in-a-pot-of-soup method with a small piece but met with poor results. Any thoughts? Can I just keep reusing it in soup over and over, or will it turn into a Typhoid Mary blob? Cover in a tea towel and hit it with a hammer and use the shards in soup? Assuming it breaks into shards.

Second question. How best to store in the first place? Since I apparently don't use it that often, should I grate it when fresh and freeze? I get Reggiano and kick myself every time this happens (like three so far).

I'm getting ready to buy another piece tomorrow and could use some advice. Thank you!

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  1. Buy a smaller piece.

    I would get some cheese paper when you're at the store (if you can find it) and use that to wrap your cheese. Or use waxed paper and then put in tupperware - plastic wrap does nothing good for your cheese.

    I was going to suggest the soup idea but you beat me to it. I don't know if you can continue to reuse it... maybe freeze it between uses? That doesn't sound that appealing to me though - unless you're using it in the same type of soup each time.

    1. I've been working on a wedge of Costco Parmesan Reggiano (sp?) for two months now. I leave it LOOSELY wrapped in an unsealed zip lock bag in the refrigerator. Somehow this seems to straddle that fine line between fossilization and mold. The microplane grater also helps when it inevitably starts to get a little bit hard. Haven't wasted a bit of it in years with this system.

      1. I was on the Parmigiano Reggiano website and they recommend wrapping it in plastic wrap. I use a lot of it so just put it into a ziploc bag and it does fine. It does need to be well wrapped so it won't dry out and if you've tried yours in soup and it hasn't melted at all, it just may be too far gone. I'm assuming you are buying Parmigiano Reggiano, not just generic "Parmesan" which usually has a lower fat content and dries out more quickly.

        1. Treat it as a rind for uses in sauce or soups......

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/375179

          1. I just recently took an evening course, "All About Cheese", taught by a faculty member at the "Large Midwestern University" here, which happens to be a major agricultural school. The professor is more or less in charge of the school's dairy facility, used for teachingc which includes a lot of cheese making. This was his recommendation for longer term cheese storage at home. Wrap the cheese tightly in plastic cling wrap, then wrap that tightly in aluminum foil. The primary enemy to cheese is air (or more specifically oxygen). Most consumer plastic bags or wrap are oxygen permeable so will not provide an adequate barrier. This is why he says to wrap with aluminum foil, it is non-permeable, however the aluminum may react with compounds (acids) in the cheese. This is why you first wrap it with plastic wrap, to create a separation between the aluminum foil and the cheese.

            An alternative, if you have one available, is a vacuum sealer (e.g. FoodSaver). The plastics used for the vacuum bags are non-permeable.

            3 Replies
            1. re: kmcarr

              Interesting. Cheese actually likes a little breathing room but the air in a refrigerator lacks the proper humidity and will dry out cheese if left unwrapped. Plastic wrap is the most stifling of barriers - foil actually allows more air in than wrap but he is right about acidic cheeses permeating the foil.

              I own a small cheese shop and while I must wrap cheese in plastic (I actually buy a special cheese wrap that is micro perf'd) for display, I have learned that cheese paper or waxed paper is the best at balancing air circulation with moisture control for home storage.

              Here is a nice article from Serious Eats about wrapping cheese that says it better than I can:
              http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/02/in...

              1. re: Sushiqueen36

                Either plastic or glass containers, or "Another very practical solution is wrapping it in food-grade plastic film." This from http://www.parmigianoreggiano.com/tas...

                1. re: escondido123

                  Yep - they are right. It's "practical". I read that. That doesn't necessarily mean it's best. They also recommended the plastic or glass containers before the wrap.

                  Honestly, where is Cheesemaestro or Delucacheesemonger....

            2. \we wrap our big blocks of reggiano iin wax paper, then wrap the whole thing in foil and store it in the coolest part of our basement fridge which doesn't get opened very often. It lasts for quite some time that way. You can also grate it up and store the grated cheese in a ziplock back. It does freeze well that way but you will have a bit of flavor loss.
              :)

              1. Thanks, everyone. I'm going to try freezing it grated in batches of maybe 4 ounces or maybe 1/4 cups. And I will try a multiple wrapping for the fridge just to see how long it lasts. I appreciate your comments.

                1 Reply
                1. re: nemo

                  Seriously, I wouldn't grate it before freezing. Air is the enemy in the freezer and there would be too much circulating around the shredded particles to leave you anything remotely tasting like parm-reg. If you insist on freezing, do it in larger blocks and thaw before shredding.

                  Though I still think the rec of buying smaller pieces is probably the best advice you've been given.

                2. "I get a nice wedge of Parmesan..."

                  You are talking about Parmigiano Reggiano, correct? And not some US "Parmesan" knockoff? If it is the real deal from Italy, it should keep well for a couple of months in the refrigerator in a plastic zip loc bag. That's what I do and have never had it "turn to stone."

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ttoommyy

                    I've had one genuine Italian Parmigiano turn to stone when I forgot it was there at all in a fridge drawer. Took three or four months, but it can happen.

                    1. re: ttoommyy

                      Yes, I believe it's Reggiano. The small chunk of rind I still have has the brown stamp in it, although not the entire word. I just tried the microplane, and I think I'm going to give it a go, even though it's coming out very powdery and will be tedious. I want to make Parmesan madeleines, so this should work.

                      Definitely next time doing the wrapping suggestions above and trying a few frozen shredded portions to test.

                      Thanks for taking the time to comment, ttoommyy. I'll take all the help I can get!

                    2. I keep mine in the freezer and take it out about an hour before I need it.

                      1. O Cheesemaestro, paging Cheesemaestro!

                        1. I wrap my Reggiano in plastic wrap and then place the wrapped cheese in a clamshell. That then goes into the rearmost part of the fridge and I leave it there for several months. I have one there as we speak ... 'bout a pound or so in size. Fast forward several months ... open the clamshell and remove the wrap. You're first greeted by a fair amount of mold, but not TOO much where you suddenly gasp. Proceed by removing the mold and you'll find that you now have some of the best SHARP tasting Reggiano this side of the pond. There IS a fair amount of grunt work involved in the cleaning, but the reward more than makes up for it. The taste is fantastic and all thanks to some additional aging.

                          1. I keep my hunk of Reggiano in the freezer compartment just in a plastic ziptop bag. When I need some, I just take the hunk out and grate it on the microplane, or use a larger-hole hand grater if I want a lot more. Then pop it back in the freezer. The grated parmesan defrosts quite quickly, though I usually heat it in some way anyway. Works great, tastes great, and quick. Very-very convenient since I probably wouldn't spend as much money as Reggiano costs if I had to use it up within a month or two.
                            Have never tried just cutting off a hunk and eating it plain though...I'd imagine the texture would be different and it might not taste very strong unless thawed first.

                            1. After reading this thread I think I'll try the foil method, but in the past this tip from Martha has worked for me with pieces that are getting on the dry side -

                              http://www.marthastewart.com/269508/s...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                Thanks for that, Bryan! I had wondered if just exposing really hard dried-out parmesan to moisture for awhile would work, like freshening bread, etc, but great to hear exactly how to do it (if I should ever find myself in that situation).

                              2. Although the microplanes have their uses, they are not the universal solution to every grating problem they're cracked up to be. I have a flat steel round-hole grater I rescued from among my late pa-in-law's culinary tools that is absolutely the cat's patoot for grating anything short of concrete. It's just coarse enough to grab hold of any cheese, but not so coarse (holes are about 3/32") as to make the cheese hang up or stall. I have two hard cheeses I use fairly often, a pecorino that's still soft enough to cut, but just barely, and a parmigiano you could probably kill somebody with, and this grater shreds both with little effort.

                                1. Good you posted this question. I have this same predicament sitting in my fridge. I have even gone as far as hacking a chunk out of the piece to process it in my blender, which I won't recommend because it broke it.

                                  I am going to try the cheesecloth method suggested below.