Because of the high moisture content, surface ripened cheeses can go from sublime to over the hill in a matter of days. This is where it pays to know a good cheesemonger who can steer you toward a cheese that will please your palate. If you aren’t so fortunate to have a great cheesemonger at hand, you’ll have to do some sleuthing yourself.
As you choose a cheese, engage all your senses:
Look at the rind – it should be white or off-white with brownish or tan areas as the cheese ages. It should not have rust, black or pinkish areas and the cheese should look plump, not sunken in the center.
Feel the cheese – it should feel soft and yielding, like a perfectly ripe peach. The outer edges should not feel hard or show visible cracking.
Smell the cheese — The cheese should smell a bit musty and may have a hint of ammonia which is a natural by-product of the ripening process of the cheese. Unwrap the cheese and allow it to breathe for 5 minutes. If the cheese still smells of ammonia, it is a sure sign it is past its prime.
Most cheese shops encourage customers to try the cheese in order to find one that is right for them. Don’t feel you must buy each cheese you try, but do purchase at least one.