“All cheese is alive,” Anne Saxelby writes in “The New Rules of Cheese.” “Cheese is a fermented product that is constantly aging and changing, mostly for the better, and sometimes for the worse.”
This process is why it’s so important to properly store your cheese, which will keep it from spoiling and ensure you can enjoy it while it's at its best. Here are some key points to keep in mind.
The best way to store cheese
In general, don’t wrap your cheese in plastic or foil, and don’t store it in a container or zip-top bag, says Michaela Weitzer, interim assistant manager of events and education at Murray’s Cheese in New York. “They all need to be able to breathe properly so that they stay at optimal freshness for as long as possible,” she says.
Plastic essentially suffocates cheese and then makes it taste stale, Saxelby writes. One exception: Weitzer says if you want to keep cheese aged in the plastic, such as cheddar blocks, in the original packaging, that’s okay. Personally, I seem incapable of keeping it intact and prefer one of the alternatives below.
Wax paper is a great option for wrapping cheese, Weitzer says, because it allows for the cheese to breathe. The same goes for cheese paper, which you can buy or reuse from your cheese shop, and reusable beeswax wraps, such as Bee’s Wrap. You can loosely wrap any type of cheese in one of these options, securing with tape, if needed.
If you bought a cheese in a brine, such as feta, burrata or fresh mozzarella, you can store these with the brine in the container they came in.
As to where to store cheese, choose your refrigerator’s vegetable crisper or cheese drawers. The higher humidity will prevent the cheese from drying out. The cheese will also be shielded from the colder air circulating through the fridge.
One important point: Take cheese out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving for ideal flavor and texture.
Storing cheese in the fridge
“The shelf life of a cheese will depend on the type of cheese and the storage method being used,” Weitzer says. Her advice:
- Fresh cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta and fresh goat cheese): Consume as soon as possible, ideally within three days of purchase.
- Semi-firm cheeses (younger Gouda and cheddars): Two weeks, when wrapped properly. “You will notice them drying out when they are on their way out.”
- Firm cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano and other very aged cheeses): Three weeks in good wrapping.
- Blue cheese: Two weeks wrapped well; “I know this one can be harder to tell when it goes bad.”
- Ripened/washed or bloomy rind (brie, Camembert): One and a half weeks, with wrapping.
Don’t freeze cheese
Saxelby does not recommend freezing cheese. “Milk is a complex, fragile matrix of fat, protein, water, vitamins, and minerals that can be coaxed into a more solid form by a cheesemaker,” she writes. “If you freeze your cheese, you are altering this delicate matrix in an irreversible way.” Freezing cheese may dull its flavor and create a grainy texture.
If you do choose to freeze cheese, your best bet is hard cheese in blocks (not sliced). I’ve also had great luck with tubs of fresh chevre from my farmers market.
How to handle moldy cheese
The USDA offers detailed guidance on how to handle cheese with mold on it. For hard cheeses where the mold is not part of the processing, cut at least 1 inch around and below the mold, taking care not to drag the knife through the mold and cross contaminate the rest. Cover the cheese in fresh wrap, and you’re good to go.
For soft cheeses made with mold, such as blue, brie and Camembert, discard any that sport mold that is not part of the cheesemaking process. You’ll be able to tell the difference on soft, ripened cheeses, according to Saxelby, because the rind may look yellow, brown, grayish or slimy, rather than the original white. If there’s atypical surface mold on a mold-processed hard cheese, such as Stilton or Gorgonzola, use the same advice for hard cheese above.
Do not eat soft cheeses (cottage, cream cheese, chevre) with mold, the USDA advices, because they can be contaminated below the surface. The same goes for sliced, shredded or crumbled cheeses, the contamination of which can be hard to discern.
Uses for old cheese
Maybe you have more cheese than you can consume in its ideal window or it has over-ripened and is a little stronger than you want it to taste. Perhaps you left it around long enough that it’s dried out. Assuming those are the main issues and there’s no unwanted mold as described above, feel free to salvage the cheese in other uses. Use assorted bits in such dishes as Fromage Fort or Classic Swiss Fondue. Mac and cheese is always an option, and many hard cheeses can be shredded and baked into cheese crisps (frico).