When you get home with groceries, do you repackage your cheese? Unless it’s shredded cheese in a resealable plastic bag that you’ll use soon, it’s a good idea. It’s also a good idea to know the right way to store cheese.
There are lots of opinions about the best way to re-wrap and store cheese. You’ll find some advice to tightly rewrap cheese in fresh plastic wrap when you get home and after each use. But most cheese experts disagree with that advice. They point out that cheese is a living food (with microbial life), and keeping it tightly wrapped in plastic doesn’t allow it to breathe. It can also impart a plastic taste to your cheese.
The goal is to keep your cheese wrapped loosely enough that it can breathe but also provide enough of an airtight seal—and moisture— to prevent drying out. (Cool temps and high humidity are what make cheese caves the perfect environment.) Here are some good options from cheese experts:
Rewrap your cheese in cheese paper, waxed, or parchment paper. Then wrap it again loosely in plastic wrap, or place it in a plastic container or a plastic bag left unopened. Some suggest putting a dampened paper towel or tea towel in the container or bag to keep the cheese from drying out. Re-wrap the cheese with fresh wrap whenever you use it.
I found this suggestion in my search for methods that don’t use plastic. I’ve not tried it; please let us know if you have! Rather than wrap your cheese in plastic, rub the cut sides of the cheese with a light coating of vegetable oil. (Olive oil is most often recommended.) Then place the cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you see mold starting to grow on the cheese, simply wipe it off with a paper towel and rinse under warm water, dry, then reapply the oil. (The mold will begin on the oil, not the cheese, and so is easily removed.)
This is the method I’m experimenting with. Wrap the cheese in non-plastic wrap, such as this food wrap. (You could also use waxed paper or parchment paper, but I like that the food wrap is natural and reusable.) Then place the cheese in a glass container with a clean, damp tea towel.
No matter the method, it’s important to have clean hands when handling your cheese!
Remember to label and date your cheese and store it in a section of the refrigerator that has a pretty constant temperature. The vegetable drawer is a good option, because—with less air flow— the temperature is more consistent in the drawer than on a shelf. (The best temp for cheese is between 35 and 45 degrees F.) Be sure to keep it away from strong-smelling foods like onions, because cheese can absorb other odors.
BTW, there are storage containers made especially for cheese. They have grooves in the bottom to wick moisture and lids that don’t seal tight, to allow air flow. There are also cheese bags, if you’d rather not wrap.
What about fresh cheese that comes in liquid?
To store fresh cheese in liquid, place it (and the liquid) in a sealed glass or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid. (The container it came in will work, if it still has a tight seal after you’ve opened it.) Leave the liquid in the container, and don’t change it unless it becomes contaminated (you put your fingers or a utensil that’s not perfectly clean in it). If you need to replace the liquid, make a brine of saltwater, using 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of water. Plain water will draw salt and flavor from your cheese, and your cheese will stay fresh longer in brine than in plain water, too.
Can I freeze cheese?
Yes, some cheeses (especially harder cheeses and shredded cheese) freeze well. To use, just defrost in the refrigerator. (Note that the texture often changes during freezing—some cheeses will get crumbly.)
How will I know if it’s time to throw away cheese?
Cheeses do have different expiration dates. It depends on how well you’ve stored them and what kinds of cheese they are (harder cheeses last longer than soft cheeses).
If your shredded or soft cheese—such as cream cheese, goat cheese, and ricotta—has any mold on it, you need to throw it all away. If your hard or semi-hard cheese has developed mold, you can cut off the mold and eat the rest. Why the difference? Well, in the soft cheese the mold spores have likely spread throughout the cheese. In the hard cheese, they’re probably only on the surface where you see them.
Note: Some mold is added to many cheeses during processing and is perfectly edible. Those blue veins in Gorgonzola cheese are Penicillium roqueforti, for example.
An off smell in your fresh cheese container is another telltale sign that it’s time to toss. Your harder cheeses should smell like they did when they were fresh. If yours develops another (unpleasant) smell, it’s no longer good.
I’m sort of fussy about freshness, so I try not to buy more cheese than we’ll use in about a week or so.