There are hundreds of different types of cheese to choose from ranging from everyday processed cheeses to fine gourmet offerings. Hard and soft cheeses add even more variation. We are left with only a couple of questions. Does cheese go bad? How you handle and store cheese depends upon its type.
In this guide, we will discuss the various types of cheeses and provide smart advice to help you know how to store, handle and cook with and enjoy them.
Types Of Natural Cheese
Natural cheeses may be either ripened or unripened. Unripened cheeses are simple types such as cottage cheese and cream cheese. These are quick to make and need to be used up quickly after purchase.
Ripened cheeses are more complex and take longer to prepare. These cheeses can be ripened using mold or bacteria. They tend to have a longer shelf life than unripened cheeses and they continue to ripen while stored.
Cheeses are also categorized by their hardness or softness. As a general rule, soft cheeses spoil more quickly than hard cheeses. The harder the cheese, the longer it will last.
Examples of Popular Cheeses
- Cottage Cheese
- Cream Cheese
- Monterey Jack
- Blue Cheese
What Is Processed Cheese?
Processed cheese is a pasteurized milk product. It consists of a mixture of both fresh and aged cheeses. These cheeses are melted, subjected to a pasteurization process and then emulsified.
The resulting product is usually mild tasting and a bit softer than an all-natural cheese. This type of cheese melts easily and is good for everyday use.
It has a long shelf life when properly stored. In fact, if kept refrigerated at forty degrees Fahrenheit, it can be kept unopened for as long as six months. Once you open it, you should be sure to keep it well wrapped in the fridge and use it up within a month.
Can You Freeze Cheese?
While it is possible to freeze cheese, it is not recommended for gourmet cheeses because it interferes with the texture. For this reason, it is best to only freeze cheeses that you plan to use for shredding, crumbling or melting.
Guidelines To Freeze Cheese
- Wrap well in airtight, moisture-proof wrapping.
- Freeze small pieces of 8 ounces or less.
- Store for no longer than 6 months.
- Thaw slowly in the refrigerator.
- Freeze as quickly as possible.
- Use quickly after thawing.
How To Store Cheese
When storing cheese, you should strive to protect it from exposure to air. This will help prevent mold and bacteria infestation, drying out and picking up unwanted flavors.
Solid blocks of hard cheese can often be kept for several months, but very soft or shredded cheeses should be used up within a couple of weeks of opening the original packaging.
Keep in mind that all natural cheeses continue ripening, so the longer you have a cheese, the stronger it will become.
All types of cheese should be kept in a separate drawer (meat or veggie drawer) or an airtight container in your refrigerator. This will protect the cheese from freezing and from picking up flavors from other foods in the fridge. Very strong-smelling cheeses should be stored separately.
How To Wrap Cheese
You should not wrap hard cheese directly with plastic wrap because it will absorb the taste of the plastic. Instead,
- wrap the block of cheese with waxed paper or parchment paper.
- Next place the paper-wrapped cheese in a plastic bag or wrap it in aluminum foil.
- Avoid leaving air pockets.
Wrapping your cheese just right takes a bit of practice. The inner layer of paper should be pretty tight, but the outer layer of plastic should have just a bit of give, yet it should also seal air out.
If you are using aluminum foil as your outer layer, it should be fairly closely fitted. If you find that the paper inner layer is damp when you unwrap your cheese, you should replace it with fresh paper.
Cheese Bags or Cheese Paper
If all this sounds like a bit much to you, you may wish to invest in cheese paper or cheese bags. These are made of a special porous material that keeps air out, wicks moisture off the cheese, but does not allow it to dry out.
Use Olive Oil
Another alternative is to coat the exterior of your block of hard cheese with a little olive oil and then refrigerate the block in ceramic or glass container with a tightly fitting lid.
This will protect your cheese from air and prevent it drying out. If you do notice any mold growth, rest assured it is on the oil. Simply use a paper towel to wipe it off and then rinse your cheese with slightly warm water.
Storing Soft Cheeses
Very soft, spreadable cheeses and shredded cheeses should be stored in their original packaging or in a glass or ceramic dish with lid that you can seal.
Cheeses that are soft, but not spreadable (e.g. mozzarella) can be stored for about a week in a glass or ceramic container with tightly fitting lid surrounded by a brining solution. This is just a mixture of sea salt and pure, filtered water.
Generally speaking, a tablespoon of salt in a couple of cups of water will work. You can adjust the amounts depending on how salty you want your cheese. Change the solution if you notice a bad odor.
How long can cheese sit out? Be aware that soft cheeses that have been left unrefrigerated for longer than four hours are highly likely to be contaminated. They should be thrown away.
Is It Safe To Eat Moldy Cheese?
The safety of moldy cheese varies from one type to another. Mold spreads through cheese via “hyphae” (similar to roots). These cannot penetrate into hard cheeses very well, so with very hard cheeses and some types of processed cheeses, a bit of mold on the surface does not ruin the cheese.
Follow these guidelines when dealing with moldy cheese:
Mold on the surface of a large block of hard cheese should be sliced away carefully. Remove an inch of cheese on all sides of the spot of mold. Be careful not to touch the mold with your knife because the spores will spread. Store the cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it up as quickly as possible.
Soft cheese or shredded cheese that has become moldy should be discarded as there is no way to remove the mold effectively. Bacteria often get a foothold in moldy soft cheese.
Use extreme caution when handling very moldy cheese. Don't open the package and do not smell the mold. Just put the whole package into a plastic bag, seal it and throw it away in a garbage can with a lid.
What About Cheeses That Are Ripened With Mold?
Certain types of cheeses may contain Listeria monocytogenes. Some examples of these cheeses include:
- Unpasteurized Mexican-Style Soft Cheese
- Blue-Veined Cheeses
These cheeses are not safe for everyone. Pregnant women should avoid these types of cheese.
Additionally, those who should avoid them include people with:
- Weak Immune Systems
- Kidney Disease
- Mold Allergies
Tips For Cooking With Cheese
Melting: Shred or cut cheese into little pieces and melt it slowly over a low heat. Remember that high heat makes cheese stringy and tough. If you are making a cheese sauce, make the cheese the last ingredient added.
Microwaving: Take the cheese out of its wrapper and place it on a dish that is microwave-safe. Cook at 30% checking very frequently to be sure it does not overheat.
Shredding: Very cold cheese is easier to shred. Put it in the freezer for about half an hour before shredding.
Serving: Cheese tastes its best when served at room temperature. Soft cheeses warm up a bit faster than hard cheeses. Be sure to only set out the amount of cheese you will use in one sitting. Being warmed up and chilled repeatedly can damage texture cause mold and bacteria growth.
Buy Wisely & Keep Track
If you are buying cheese to freeze and use in cooking, it's alright to purchase larger amounts.
For savoring, it's better to buy small amounts and avoid storing cheese for a long period of time.
Be sure to label your cheeses with the date of purchase when you get them home. That way you will be sure to enjoy them while they are at their peak.