Cheese always ranks among America’s favorite foods. From the simple string cheese adored by children to fancy triple cream imports served at formal dinner parties, whether it’s made from cow, goat, or buffalo milk, cheese has the versatility to stand on its own or transform simple ingredients into magnificent meals.
Whatever your favorite cheese is, you’ve doubtless opened up a cherished morsel in the refrigerator to find it dried out, moldy, or just plain spoiled. Knowing how to store different cheese types extends their shelf life and saves money spent on replacing costly and frequently hard-to-find varieties.
The best way to store cheese depends on its type. Types range from dry to semi-hard, semi-soft and soft or fresh cheeses, and every level of moisture content demands different storage environments to stay fresh and tasty.
Semi-Hard or Semi-Firm Cheese – Edam, Gouda, Havarti, Mozzarella, Monterey Jack, and young Cheddar are top sellers in this group. They are sold in many rounded and angular shapes and frequently encased in a thin layer of real or artificial paraffin to maintain moisture levels.
Semi-Soft Cheese – Blue, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton, and Feta cheese are the most preferred cheeses in this class. They barely hold their shape when sliced chilled and fall apart at room temperature.
Like many culinary applications and procedures, the best wraps for cheese vary widely depending on whom you ask, so experimentation is the optimum way to determine which method keeps your cheese fresh longest. Some purists insist plastic wrap infuses cheese with odd flavors and only use parchment or waxed paper while other cheese enthusiasts maintain plastic is the best protective coating for cheese. A few experts believe storing cheese in plastic containers provides the best moisture levels.
Hard cheese is the easiest to preserve and lasts for months if tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to keep its low moisture content from evaporating. Semi-hard cheeses are more perishable but will last for several weeks wrapped in plastic wrap, parchment paper, or waxed paper. To extend the life of semi-soft cheeses, store them in plastic food storage containers or wrapped in waxed or parchment paper. Soft and fresh cheeses are best stored in their original cartons; feta purchased in salt water should be stored undrained.
Whatever wrap or container you choose, open it every few days and if you are storing the cheese long-term, change the wrapping every week or so. Occasional exposure to air and clean wrapping are key to cheese preservation.
For maximum cheese life, store all types in warmer parts of the refrigerator such as produce or cold cut bins or compartments in the door. Avoid areas near the fan, as they will dry out the cheese. Avoid storing mild soft or fresh cheeses next to strongly flavored semi-soft cheeses as they may absorb the odors of those cheeses. Hard, semi-hard, and semi-soft cheeses can all be tightly wrapped and frozen for several months but their consistency will suffer and their flavors wane, so they are best used for cooking after defrosting. Thaw out frozen cheese in the refrigerator to best preserve its original textures. Soft or fresh cheeses significantly deteriorate in both taste and texture when frozen.
No matter how fastidiously you wrap and store cheese, it’s bound to grow mold on it from time to time but don’t rush to discard it. The harder the cheese, the better it withstands mold, so moldy hard and semi-hard varieties can normally be salvaged. Use a sharp paring knife and remove the mold, then cut away about 1/2 inch of the cheese below it. This prevents the moldy taste from flavoring the cheese and also hinders the regrowth of mold. Mold on semi-soft, soft, and fresh cheeses penetrates the body of the cheese and although typically not visible, can cause gastronomical problems. It’s highly advisable to discard these types of cheese if any mold is visible.
For the best taste experience, only buy as much cheese as you can eat in a few days, especially soft and fresh cheeses. To enjoy the full, rich flavor of soft or semi-soft cheeses, let them come to room temperature before serving. Wrap sticky cheeses such as soft blue or Roquefort cheese in wax paper and then in plastic wrap to keep them from sticking to the covering. After opening a new package of cheese, remove the original wrapper and replace it with fresh packaging (this does not apply to fresh cheeses). If you purchase a variety of cheeses on a regular basis, consider investing in cheese paper, available online at cheese and gourmet cookware stores and websites.