Questions about storing Parmesan and using a piece turned to stone
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: