How to Store Cheese So It Stays Fresh and Delicious for as Long as Possible, According to Experts
You bought some amazing cheese—and now you need to store it properly so the cheese remains fresh and the taste and texture are optimal until you have the chance to enjoy it. The good news is, you have options: it's a myth that there's only one right way to store cheese.
"There are a variety of ways to store cheese and no single way is necessarily correct. In fact, cheese alone is a type of storage method for milk!" confirms Venae Watts, a fifth generation owner of Minerva Dairy. "For hundreds of years, cheese has been made to store milk for longer periods of time without refrigeration. Some of the best ways to store cheese today haven't changed in the past 100 years."
Cheese Storage Guidelines
The Temp: "All cheeses are best stored at refrigerator temperature, around 35 °F/4 °C," says Caitlin Clark, M.S, a doctoral candidate in food science and fermentation at Colorado State University, and writer for Robust Kitchen.
The Brine: Expect the shortest shelf life from fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella and feta. These cheeses are sometimes packaged in brine to increase their shelf life and improve their texture. "If you purchased a cheese packaged in brine, don't drain the brine, but instead continue to store the cheese in the brine. This will prolong the quality of the brined cheese," Clark says.
Textural Changes: Expect soft cheeses, such as brie, camembert, or Limberger to continue to soften as they are stored. By contrast, hard cheeses, such as Parmesan or asiago tend to get even harder as they age, says Clark.
Don't Slice Till You Use: "Whenever possible, purchase your cheese in large pieces and slice it as needed," says Clark. Only slice as much cheese as you intend to use each time, since slicing cheese increases its surface area, exposing more cheese to possible contamination, oxidation, and dehydration, and thus shortens the shelf life of the cheese.
The Best Place in the Refrigerator: As for where in your fridge to store your cheese, Louise Kennedy Converse, cheesemonger and owner of Artisan Cheese Company, has another savvy piece of advice: "Even though most fridges have a 'cheese drawer' your purchases are actually better kept in one of the bins usually reserved for vegetables, on the bottom of your fridge," she says, because there's more humidity, which benefits cheese.
How to Wrap Cheese Properly
Don't use plastic wrap! As Clark notes, many people think they should store cheese wrapped in plastic as they would other oily foods, because it is susceptible to condensation and 'sweating' (accumulation of oils or fats on the cheese surface). "However, plastic is not ideal for cheese," she says. "Cheese contains living organisms, so it is best to store it in an environment that allows for gas exchange." The best way to wrap cheese is to use cheese paper, a special type of thick paper coated on one side with a combination of wax and polyethylene. "The coated side is placed near the cheese, so that it can resist sweating and condensation, and the paper is folded around the cheese and taped or tied gently shut. This allows for the cheese to continue maturing throughout its intended shelf life, without taking on the phenolic off-flavors typical of plastic contamination," she says.
You can buy cheese paper online and at specialty food and cheese shops (Converse recommends the cheese papers from Formaticum). If you're unable to find it, parchment paper—a lighter paper coated on one side with silicone that's often used in baking—is a very good, and much cheaper, substitute, says Clark. "Some supermarkets and cheese retailers package cheese in plastic bags or wrap," she adds. "If you buy cheese wrapped in plastic always repackage the cheese in cheese paper or parchment paper at home to avoid the texture and flavor defects that come from storing cheese in plastic."
Converse says cheese aficionados call wrapping cheese in plastic wrap "lactic murder." If you don't have cheese paper or parchment paper, she says to use aluminum foil rather than plastic wrap.
For blue cheeses, you might consider separating them from the softer, more vulnerable cheeses. "I re-wrap them in tin foil, loosely, and pop them inside a ziplock bag. The bag actually acts a bit like a cave and helps the cheese from drying out," says Converse.
Prolonging the Life of Cheese
Every couple of days, Converse recommends unwrapping your cheese, taking the back of a knife and running it across the face of the cheese on the part that was cut. "You're 'facing' your cheese and helping extend its life," she says, adding that it's a good idea to do this before you serve your cheeses as well, especially if they've been wrapped up for a while and have a bit of a shine to them. If you see a bit of mold, she says, scrape that off, too.
More About Mold
Speaking of mold, vinegar is your friend. "Putting a small amount of vinegar onto cheese cloth or a paper towel before storing your cheese will help save it from mold," says Watts. "The vinegar acts as a kind of barrier and kills mold. You may be thinking your cheese will taste like vinegar when you go to eat it, but it won't."