In uncertain times, it’s comforting to have a stocked fridge and pantry. The next step, though, is making sure to have a plan to use everything before it goes bad.
The benefit of cheese is that it’s made to be sturdy—the cheesemaking process isolates milk’s fat, protein, and minerals and ferments them for flavor and durability. And, when you drastically reduce the water content of any food, you limit the potential for dangerous spoilage (think beef jerky versus steak). Cheese is nature’s power bar.
While most cheese has an expiration date printed on the packaging, there’s not a specific day when cheese goes from totally edible to totally bad. Cheese is alive and ever-evolving, so it will change as it stays in your fridge, but evaluating your cheese is much more about noticing whether the flavor, aroma, and texture are still desirable.
So, whenever you get your cheese, leave it out at room temperature for an hour or two (the ideal temperature for serving cheese), then dig in. Get to know it. Taste it, smell it, note the texture. As the days pass and you take your cheese out of the fridge, notice the aroma, texture, and flavor. If it’s rock hard, but started out silky smooth, maybe it’s time to toss it. Ditto if it smelled brothy and mushroomy when you bought it and now smells like cleaning products.
And, while you can freeze cheese, most cheese professionals caution against it, as it can compromise the cheese’s texture and flavor. If you’re set on it, save the freezer for cooking cheeses, rinds for stock, and the more industrial cheeses. Your fancy triple cream will suffer if frozen.
Even in these uncertain times, many cheese shops still offer delivery and pickup, so if you can buy less cheese more frequently, that’s always ideal. If not, you have our blessing to stock up.
Here are the recommended time frames for storing your favorite cheeses in your fridge and the best storage methods for each.
Cheeses with lower moisture are the least perishable because they have lower water content and a higher salt content. Even if some mold is growing on them, you can almost always cut off the moldy area and be fine—blue or green or gray mold is fine, but black and red are not. If there’s red or black mold growing, throw out your cheese and deep-clean your fridge. But, cheese professionals often store chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano in their fridge ad infinitum or until it’s gone.
The biggest potential storage problem you can anticipate with hard cheese is moisture loss—it’s hard already and can become almost the texture of granite when it is exposed to too much oxygen. For best results, wrap tightly in parchment paper, butcher paper, cheese cloth, or beeswax wrap. Plastic wrap is fine in a pinch, but not recommended, as it can impart plasticky flavors to your otherwise delicious cheese.
How Long You Have: Four to six months, with correct storage
Semi-Hard to Semi-Soft
These are the ones that you are going to have to use your best judgment with and are especially important to taste before storing. The good news is that these are usually the great melters, so they’re easy to use up via your favorite grilled cheese or mac and cheese recipe if you’re cutting it close. Wrap these in parchment paper, then place them inside a zip-top bag or a Tupperware container with one corner slightly open. You want air flow, but not much.
How Long You Have: Two to four weeks after the expiration date
Higher water content = highly perishable. Your expiration date will be much more on target here, especially for the fresher cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese. If you see any mold on soft cheese, throw it out.
Unless your soft cheese came in a container (like cottage cheese, burrata, or Camembert in its traditional wooden box), it can be stored similarly to your semi-soft cheeses—wrapped in breathable paper and placed in a ziplock bag. The exception would be something goopy like burrata, which can just be stored directly in a plastic container.
How Long You Have: A week or two after the expiration date, if you’re lucky