What exactly is happening and is there some way to make your cheese behave?
Cheese is made up primarily of coagulated milk solids, or curd. In solid (that is, cheese) form, that fat is held together within an interlocking web of protein chains, which loosen when brought to room temperature, thereby permitting that once-trapped butterfat to leech out and bead on the surface of the cheese. So you'll never see that slick and shiny coating on a cheese straight from the refrigerator.
What's a cheese-entertainer to do? Especially considering that cheese is always best-enjoyed at room temperature, an unappealing, sweaty coating is sure to pose a predicament at weddings and other nice events where presentation matters and where cheese may be sitting out on a table for an extended period of time.
Some tips: Keep cheese wrapped when you pull it out of the fridge, and only unwrap it right before serving. I will keep my cheese in its wrapper, placed on the cheese board, appropriate knife at the ready, right until the doorbell rings with the first guest. The cheese wrapper can more easily and preemptively absorb the leeching butterfat. If beading still occurs after you unwrap the cheese, blot its surface with a square of paper towel. If the cheese is really shiny, you may have pulled the cheese from the refrigerator too early. About an hour to an hour and a half before serving is just right.
You should know that there's nothing wrong with a bit of dew on your cheese. It's an aesthetic issue more than anything else. But if you're so turned off by the prospect of cheese tears, there are some options less prone to the condition. Try fresh cheeses and bloomies. Semi-soft cheeses, including washed rinds and blues, are less inclined to shine, as well. Stay away from hard cheeses, and especially aged sheep milk cheeses, which have the highest butterfat content of all.
Lastly, don't pre-slice or portion your cheese at parties or when entertaining. Maybe the outside will show beading, but the inside won't, so every new slice will look great. Or put out smaller pieces more frequently, so that huge wedges aren't forced to sit out for long periods of time.
The very best advice may be to just eat your cheese quickly, thus avoiding this troublesome quandary altogether!
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a Cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.