Even with the best intentions of eating cheese every day, or most days, other foods occasionally take center stage, and sometimes, days or even weeks will go by and cheese will be forgotten. We've all done it: pulled open that deli drawer and reeled backward from the smell, or reached in and flicked around a couple of things with the hardness of a hockey puck.
Most people throw these remnants of cheeses away as quickly as possible and vow restraint the next time they are tempted to buy too much cheese. But this (especially the restraint part) isn't always necessary. Forgotten cheese, in two words, is simply very aged, and it's time to apply your cheese-counter skills to your own cheese drawer.
First, look at the cheese. Most likely it's covered with an intense layer of mold or a thick bit of cheese that looks like a rind, and that's because the cheese has been working hard to protect itself against its environment. It's grown a protective layer that may mean the inside is still good to eat.
Second, feel the cheese. Is it soft and gooey, or firm and hard? Compare the feel to what you bought in the first place. Recall that soft cheeses become softer with age, and hard cheeses become harder with age. Unfortunately, the soft cheeses also develop unwanted bacteria and molds fairly quickly, so a particularly gooey soft cheese may need to be thrown away, but again, feel it for any sense of firmness or retention of its original texture.
Third, smell the cheese. At this stage its doubtful you need to bring it very close to your nose, but this is a crucial step. Strong ammonia, barnyard, or rotting vegetation smells are those to avoid, and indicate the cheese should be thrown away. However, if you don't detect any of these smells, you can safely move ahead.
What is a saggy cheese?
A cheese sags when too much moisture has collected in one spot. The moisture creates a lump, and the cheese bulges out. Unfortunately, this also means that another part of the cheese has lost moisture and is too dry. Keep your cheese from sagging by turning it frequently and keeping the temperature and humidity within the best range for the cheese.
At this point you'll need to scrape, or clean, the cheese of its surface mold or hard, protective rind. Use the flat of a knife blade, or a cheese plane, or a knife if you need to cut large chunks away. When the cheese is clean, then you can taste it.
If it's a soft cheese, you'll want to avoid extremely salty or bitter tastes. Other cheeses will most likely taste flat or dull, and the best thing to do with these is combine them with other forgotten cheeses by grating them or melting them, and using them over pasta or eggs, or incorporating them into a recipe that calls for cheese.