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For cheesemongers, cheese care verges on an obsession, so it’s easy to forget that among the general public, questions about the best way to store different types of cheese abound. Translating your hard-won cheese care knowledge to customers is a must – after all, if a cheese dries out or goes mouldy, shoppers are bound to be disappointed in the product.
These days, with consumers fuelled by a desire to prevent food waste and save money where they can, cheese care tips will go down a treat. Here, we look into consumers’ most common cheese questions, from whether you can freeze cheese (typically yes – though you may not want to for reasons we explain below) to how to store cheese in the fridge (choose your materials wisely!).
Yes, you can safely freeze cheese. But whether you really want to is the more important question. If you’ve ever thawed vegetables from your freezer and been shocked by the new texture of your once firm and fresh greens, you won’t be surprised that freezing cheese can alter the texture and flavour significantly.
Like your limp vegetables, when the cheese thaws, the ice crystals that formed in and around the product will melt, resulting in a new – and often not-so-nice – texture. This looks different in different cheeses. For softer cheeses, it can result in a dry, crumbly texture or separation, and in others, you may even find a mealy mouthfeel.
Cheesemongers always recommend that you buy and eat cheese fresh – especially when it comes to hand-crafted farmhouse cheeses.
Artisan cheeses with delicate flavour profiles don’t freeze well, so they should always be eaten fresh to avoid disappointment.
As a rule of thumb, hard cheeses freeze better than soft cheeses as they have a lower moisture content and higher fat content. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, Parmesan has a long shelf-life in the refrigerator alone, so it’s better to keep it in the fridge rather than compromise its texture and flavour in the freezer.
Since you can expect a cheese’s flavour and texture to change after it freezes and thaws, it’s best to stick to freezing cheeses that are used in cooking rather than those meant to be eaten fresh on a cheeseboard. For example, freezing Mozzarella to sprinkle on a pizza before it goes in the oven or saving grated Cheddar in the freezer.
Better cheeses to freeze
- Hard goat’s cheese
Worst cheeses to freeze
- Cream cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Feta cheese
Steer clear of putting whole blocks or wedges of cheese in the freezer – you’ll have better results freezing grated cheeses for cooking and sliced cheeses for grilling.
To freeze grated cheese, divide the cheese into an airtight container like a zip seal bag, remove any excess air and date and label the bag or container. To freeze slices of cheese, separate the slices by greaseproof baking paper to prevent them from sticking together, then store in an airtight, dated bag or container.
The shelf life of cheeses can range between a week to six months, varying by the type of cheese, how it is made and how it is stored.
Yes, cheese can go off. With mould being an integral element of the cheesemaking process and some maturation processes lasting years, that may be surprising for customers to hear. When cheeses are professionally aged, they’re looked after by an affineur – someone who expertly cares for them by regulating the humidity, temperature and airflow in the surrounding environment to develop the flavour and texture of the cheese.
The ageing process typically takes place in a specialised cheese cave or other temperature-controlled room to ensure optimum conditions for the microbes in the moulds to do their work.
When cheeses are removed from these ideal conditions or cut up for consumption, they can spoil by cracking or growing moulds that aren’t safe to eat. Soft cheeses are particularly susceptible to mould because of their high moisture content.
Specific edible moulds and cultures are used within the maturation process, but you wouldn’t want to eat a piece of cheese that has grown mould in your refrigerator. Mould is often easy to remove from hard cheeses, however, as it can simply be cut or scraped away.
Keeping cheese fresh is a key part of a cheesemonger’s role, so they’re experts when it comes to storing cheese. Most cheesemongers will keep cheeses in refrigerated displays. Once a cheese is cut, it is wrapped in clingfilm using a technique called ‘glass wrapping’. Done properly, customers won’t even be able to see the clingfilm on the cut face of the cheese.
Clingfilm can protect cheese while also ensuring it looks its best, but while this is great when a cheese is on display, it’s actually not the best way to store cheese longer term. Cheesemongers advise that when clingfilm is left on for too long, it can affect the flavour of the cheese. If not applied properly, it can also help mould grow. A better option is a more breathable wrapping, like a beeswax cloth or wax wrapper.
When storing cheese in the fridge, rather than keeping it in an airtight wrapping like clingfilm, a cheesemonger’s care tip is to use a wax paper or cloth wrap and a tupperware box can allow the cheese to create its own controlled area for temperature and humidity, ensuring it won’t dry out.
To keep cheese fresh, you need to get the temperature right. Without refrigeration, many cheeses will last only days or even hours. Even waxed cheeses, which are kept cooler from their waxed casing, can only last unrefrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Keeping cheese in the fridge at temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius will slow the spread of bacterial growth, allowing it to last for around one week to six months, depending on the type of cheese.
How long cheeses last
Soft cheeses - less than two weeks
- Cream cheese
- Feta cheese
Semi-soft cheeses - two to four weeks
- Blue cheese
- Goat’s cheese
Hard cheeses - four to six months
Freezing cheese stops bacterial growth completely. Frozen cheeses should be used within six months of freezing and then used within two to three days of thawing. However, as stated above, freezing cheese significantly affects its flavour and texture.