Buddy Up to Your Senses
Don't be shy with your cheesemonger. Be bold. Ask for a taste. Ask for recommendations. The cheesemonger will likely cut a thin slice that goes from the rind to the center so you can taste the full range of textures in the wheel. Hold the sample in your hand and take a good sniff. It is amazing what the aroma brings: a strong-smelling cheese might taste remarkably mild; or you might smell the grassiness of a pasture. Feel the cheese with your fingers. The cheese in the shop is probably cold; the warmth of your fingers will release a lot of flavor. Put it on your tongue and breathe again; the aroma will change. Let it melt on your tongue. Chew it slowly and enjoy the blossoming flavor from beginning to end.
Live in the Moment and Take Notes
You might want it all, but try to limit yourself to tasting only a couple of cheeses at a time, from mild to strong. Ask questions. What kind of milk is it? Is it a fresh cheese or an aged one? Why is the rind crusty or bloomy, and is it edible? Is this mold a good sign? Who makes this cheese, and how does it reflect its location? Every good cheese has a good story. Make notes.
Hit the Books
Don't miss the opportunity to read about cheese. It is an endlessly fascinating subject. Once you really get the bug, you might try making your own cheese. Begin with a simple acid-coagulated cheese, like paneer, crème fraîche, or yogurt cheese.
If you want to go further, call your local supplier for home brewing equipment and see if they carry the cultures and supplies you need.
Handling and Storing Cheese
Here's the best advice for storing cheese: don't. Instead, take home small portions and visit your friend behind the cheese counter more often. If that’s impractical, then remember this: a good cheese is still alive, needs to breathe, and suffers if it loses too much moisture. When it comes to storage you’re trying for cave-like conditions, so the best place to store in the refrigerator is the vegetable drawer.
The best cheese retailers cut just to order and use a two-layer French cheese wrap (composed of an inner, perforated plastic layer and a printed paper outer layer). If your cheese comes in cheese wrap, leave it that way. If your hand-cut cheese comes in a plastic wrap, liberate it. Wrap it loosely in wax paper or parchment, then place in a resealable plastic bag. Blue cheese can be a little weepy, so wrap it in foil before you place it in a bag.