It is possible to freeze any cheese without any health risks. While this is good to know, it begs the question "is it a good idea to freeze cheese, even though it's possible?" The answer to this second question, in general, is no. That's because the quality of most cheese will suffer as a result of freezing. To play it safe, the default position on freezing cheese seems to be: don't do it. However, as with any rule, you can find exceptions to this one.
How Freezing Affects Cheese
Ice crystals form in cheese during storage in the freezer, affecting both taste and texture. Water expands when it freezes and contracts as it thaws. This action breaks down the molecular structure of the cheese, causing it to become crumbly when thawed. Soft cheeses, in particular, emerge from the freezer exuding liquid separated from the tough and somewhat granular remaining paste.
Cheeses That Should Never Be Frozen
The texture of fresh cheeses such as queso fresco and paneer and soft cheese such as brie suffers the most from time in the freezer. Likewise, hand-crafted, artisanal cheeses with their delicately balanced flavors come out of the freezer noticeably worse for the wear.
Don’t store cheeses with innately fine pockets or holes in the freezer either. Those tiny air pockets encourage the damage caused by the freeze-and-thaw cycle even more.
Cheeses That Can Stand Up to Freezing
Industrially-produced cheese stands up to freezing with the least loss of quality. Big blocks of store brand cheddar, for example, are uniformly smooth and suffer less textural damage when frozen than more irregular types of cheese.
Well-aged, hard grating cheeses such as pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) usually come out of the freezer in usable condition. But these types of cheeses can develop a slightly metallic "burnt" flavor during freezer storage. Because they keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator tightly wrapped (without loss of flavor), it makes more sense to store them there.
Packaged shredded cheeses such as mozzarella designed for melting on pizza and slices destined for a grilled cheese make good candidates for freezer storage. In fact, freezing makes it possible for you to keep them conveniently on hand.
How to Safely Store Cheese
Cheese continually maintained at 0 F lasts indefinitely from a safety perspective, but the quality progressively deteriorates over time. For best results:
- Use frozen cheese within three months.
- Store your cheese in the unopened original packaging, or in zip-top freezer bags with the air pressed out.
- If you intend to store sliced cheese, separate the slices using parchment paper and store it in a bag or airtight container.
Thaw cheese in the refrigerator or cook it from the frozen state on pizzas, in casseroles, or in a grilled cheese sandwich. Use thawed cheese within two to three days of pulling it from the freezer.
Previously frozen cheese performs best when you grate, crumble, or melt it. Don’t use thawed cheese in dishes such as a Caprese salad or deli sandwich, which rely on the creamy texture of the fresh cheese.