How to Store Hard Cheese

Storing hard cheese correctly is essential for maintaining its flavor, texture, and longevity.

When you bring home hard cheeses like cheddar, Parmesan, or Gouda, it’s not just about keeping them cool; it’s about understanding the balance between humidity, temperature, and airflow.

Ideally, they should be kept in a cool environment, between 35°F and 45°F (1.6°C and 7.2°C). At these temperatures, the growth of bacteria and mold is inhibited, which helps prolong the shelf life of your cheese.

A wooden cheese board with a knife, wrapped hard cheese, and a cheese dome on a kitchen counter

To store hard cheese, begin by wrapping it properly. Cheese paper is preferred because it allows the cheese to breathe while still providing protection.

If cheese paper is not available, parchment or waxed paper can be a decent alternative, followed closely by aluminum foil for a tighter seal. Avoid using plastic wrap if possible, as it can cause the cheese to sweat and promote the growth of bacteria.

Remember, even with the perfect wrapping technique, hard cheese will eventually mold. The key is in how you manage and care for the cheese during storage to maximize its useful life.

Ensure that hard cheeses are stored in the least humid part of your refrigerator, such as a dedicated cheese drawer or the main body of the fridge. This helps prevent excess moisture from compromising the cheese’s quality.

Do not be alarmed if mold appears; simply cut off at least an inch around the mold to salvage the rest. Regularly check and change the wrap to keep the cheese fresh.

Understanding Hard Cheese

When you explore the world of hard cheese, you focus on its diverse varieties and the unique characteristics that set them apart. Knowing the types and inherent qualities ensures you select and store your cheese perfectly.

Types of Hard Cheese

  • Cheddar: Originating from the English village of Cheddar, this cheese is known for its sharp taste.
  • Parmesan (Parmigiano-Reggiano): A hard, granular cheese from Italy, offering a complex, nutty flavor.
  • Gouda: A Dutch cheese with a rich, unique flavor and smooth texture, becoming harder and more intense with age.
  • Swiss: Famously holey, this cheese is sweet and mild when young, and develops a sharper taste as it ages.
  • Pecorino: This Italian cheese made from sheep’s milk is salty and firm, used often for grating.

Characteristics of Hard Cheese

Hard cheeses are distinguishable by their:

  • Firmness: They’re denser and more rigid, which contributes to their longer shelf-life.
  • Low Moisture Content: This makes them less prone to bacterial growth and spoilage.
  • Flavor Profile: These cheeses often have a more concentrated and rich flavor, which can range from nutty to sharp, depending on the type and aging process.

Preparation for Storage

Before storing your hard cheese, ensure that it’s properly prepared to maintain its quality and extend shelf life. This preparation is essential to prevent mold growth and preserve the cheese’s flavor and texture.

Cleaning and Drying

It is vital to start with a clean environment when preparing cheese for storage. Any cutting tools, surfaces, or your hands should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent contamination.

Once you have sliced or portioned the cheese, pat it dry with a clean cloth to remove any excess moisture, as this can encourage mold growth.

Slicing and Portioning

When cutting hard cheese for storage, consider how you intend to use it:

  • Slicing: Use a clean cheese slicer or knife to cut even, uniform slices. This method is best when you plan to use the cheese within a short period.
  • Portioning: If you won’t use the cheese at once, portion it into smaller pieces. This minimizes exposure to air and contamination as you only use what you need.

Wrapping and Labeling

Proper wrapping is essential for preserving the quality of hard cheese:

  1. Wrapping Material:
    • Cheese paper: Ideal for allowing the cheese to breathe while being protected.
    • Parchment or wax paper: Less ideal than cheese paper, but still effective.
    • Plastic wrap: Only use as a last resort since it can encourage moisture buildup.
  2. Labeling:
    • Clearly label the cheese with the date of storage and the type of cheese.
    • Use a piece of tape or a sticker on the wrapping for the label.

Choosing the Right Wrapping Material

Selecting the proper wrapping material for hard cheese is crucial to maintain its quality and extend shelf life. The right material balances moisture content and breathability, ensuring the cheese retains its flavor and texture.

A block of hard cheese sits on a wooden cutting board. Beside it, various wrapping materials like parchment paper, wax paper, and cheese paper are laid out, ready to be used for storage

Cheese Paper and Parchment

Cheese paper is a dual-layered material, pairing a porous paper outer layer with a plastic inner layer to regulate humidity. This design permits your cheese to breathe while minimizing moisture loss.

Parchment paper can be a substitute, offering similar breathability, but lacks the protective plastic component. For optimum storage:

  • Cheese Paper: Perfect for balancing humidity and breathability.
  • Parchment Paper: A suitable alternative with good breathability.

Wax Paper and Aluminum Foil

Wax paper provides a nonstick surface that permits some moisture exchange, which is beneficial for preventing the cheese from drying out while still allowing it to breathe.

Aluminum foil, while less breathable than wax paper, can be used for short-term storage. However, it may cause the cheese to sweat if used for extended periods.

Use these materials as follows:

  • Wax Paper: Good for short-term storage, allows for minimal breathability.
  • Aluminum Foil: Handy for short-term use, but monitor for excess moisture buildup.

Plastic Wrap and Airtight Containers

Plastic wrap seals in moisture and is often used for airtight storage, but it can trap too much humidity and potentially promote mold growth.

Airtight containers may prevent breathability, which is crucial for maintaining the cheese’s condition.

If using plastic wrap or airtight containers, it may be beneficial to wrap the cheese in wax or parchment paper first, then place it inside the container to provide balance between moisture retention and breathability:

  • Plastic Wrap: Can be too airtight; wrap cheese in paper first.
  • Airtight Containers: Ensure they are clean and free of strong odors; line with breathable paper.

Proper Storage Conditions

A block of hard cheese is placed on a wooden board in a cool, dark pantry. A temperature-controlled environment with low humidity keeps the cheese fresh

Achieving the right conditions is critical for extending the shelf life of your hard cheese and maintaining its quality. Pay attention to these specifics for optimal storage.

Temperature and Humidity

  • Temperature: Your fridge should be set to maintain a cool temperature between 35°F and 45°F (1.6°C and 7.2°C). This slows bacterial and mold growth.
  • Humidity: Aim for a 70-80% humidity level within your cheese storage area to prevent drying out without promoting excess moisture that can lead to mold.

Avoiding Contamination

  • Wrap Cheese Properly: Use cheese paper, wax paper, or parchment paper to allow for moisture exchange while protecting the cheese from external contaminants.
  • Handling Mold: If mold appears, remove at least one-inch around and below the affected area, and avoid using the same knife on unaffected parts to prevent spreading.

Positioning in the Refrigerator

  • Away from Strong Smells: Store your cheese away from strong-smelling foods to prevent flavor contamination.
  • Cheese Drawer: Utilize the refrigerator’s cheese drawer if available, as it’s designed to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity ideal for cheese storage.
  • Avoid the Door: The refrigerator door is prone to temperature fluctuations, making it unsuitable for long-term storage of hard cheese.

Long-Term Storage Solutions

When aiming to preserve the quality and flavor of hard cheeses for an extended period, it’s essential to utilize proper storage methods that will extend shelf life and maintain food safety. Below are specific, effective long-term storage solutions for your cheeses.

Cheese Dome and Cheese Grotto

A cheese dome or cheese grotto serves as an ideal microclimate for storing cheeses such as Camembert due to their ability to regulate humidity and ensure sufficient airflow.

  • Benefits:
    • Maintains optimal humidity
    • Allows for airflow without excessive drying

Vacuum Sealing

Vacuum sealing your hard cheese is an excellent method to extend its longevity as it removes air that could lead to oxidation and spoiling.

Vacuum-sealed cheeses can be stored in the refrigerator, where they will last for several weeks, or even months if kept unopened.

  • Procedure:
    • Wrap the cheese in wax or parchment paper.
    • Use a vacuum sealer to remove air and seal the package.
    • Store in the refrigerator.

Freezing Techniques

While freezing is generally not recommended for soft cheeses due to texture changes, freezing hard cheeses can be an effective way to pause the aging process and preserve the fromage for usage much later.

  • Steps:
    • Cut the cheese into small, manageable portions.
    • Wrap in waxed paper and then enclose in airtight plastic wrap.
    • Place the wrapped portions in freezer bags before freezing.
  • Considerations:
    • Thaw in the refrigerator slowly to maintain texture.
    • Use within six months for best quality.

Maintaining and Serving Stored Cheese

The key to enjoying high-quality hard cheese lies in diligent maintenance and proper serving methods.

Regular Inspections

Consistently check your stored cheese for any signs of mold or changes in texture. A weekly inspection schedule will suffice.

If you detect mold on the surface, carefully cut at least one inch around and beneath the affected area to prevent it from spreading to unaffected parts of the cheese.

Always ensure that the knife doesn’t come into contact with the mold to avoid cross-contamination.

Unwrapping and Breathing

When it’s time to serve your cheese, unwrap it and let it ‘breathe’ for about an hour before consumption.

This practice enhances both the cheese’s flavor profile and texture by allowing air circulation.

For optimal results, store your cheese covered in a cheese dome to balance humidity and facilitate slight air exchange. It’s a balance between keeping the cheese protected and allowing some air to maintain its quality.

Special Considerations

A wooden cheese board with a variety of hard cheeses neatly arranged, surrounded by small bowls of nuts, dried fruits, and a few sprigs of fresh herbs

When storing different types of cheese, it’s crucial to understand their unique characteristics and storage needs to maintain flavor and longevity.

Soft Cheese and Semi-Hard Cheese

Soft cheeses such as Camembert need an environment where they can breathe, so wrap them in cheese paper as the ideal solution.

Alternatively, waxed or parchment paper are acceptable, albeit slightly less ideal.

For semi-hard cheeses, these two wrapping methods work well, providing enough air exchange to prevent the cheese from becoming overly dry or suffocated.

Blue Cheeses and Other Aromatics

Blue cheeses, known for their bold flavors and mold veining, require special attention.

These cheeses should be stored so that air can circulate without overly drying out the cheese. Cheese paper is once again recommended.

Store blue cheese away from other foods to prevent the transfer of the strong flavors, often referred to as the issue with “stinky cheese”.

Fresh Cheeses with High Moisture

Fresh cheeses such as feta and mozzarella have high moisture content and are usually sold in brine or water to keep them fresh.

To maintain proper moisture levels, store these cheeses in their original liquid and ensure the container is airtight.

Never leave fresh cheeses out for extended periods, as their quality can deteriorate swiftly without proper storage conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

A block of hard cheese is placed in a cool, dry place, wrapped in wax paper or cheese cloth, and stored in an airtight container

In this section, you’ll find straightforward advice on how to maintain the quality of hard cheese by addressing proper storage techniques and prevention of mold.

What is the best way to store cheese in the fridge?

For optimal freshness, store your hard cheese at a cool temperature, ideally between 35°F and 45°F (1.6°C and 7.2°C).

Placing wrapped cheese in the most humid part of your refrigerator, such as the vegetable drawer, will help maintain its moisture content.

How do you keep hard cheese from molding?

To prevent molding, wrap your hard cheese in cheese paper or waxed paper, which allows the cheese to breathe while minimizing the risk of mold.

If you notice mold on the surface, cut at least one inch around and below the moldy spot, being careful not to let the knife touch the mold.

Do I need to refrigerate hard cheese?

Yes, refrigeration is necessary for hard cheese storage. Keeping it refrigerated slows down the growth of bacteria and mold, helping to prolong the cheese’s shelf life.

How can I store cheddar cheese after opening?

After opening cheddar cheese, rewrap it in cheese paper or waxed paper. Then, place it in the refrigerator, preferably in a section that has higher humidity to keep it from drying out.

What are the optimal containers for cheese storage?

For storing cheese, use containers that are either specially designed for cheese storage or airtight containers to prevent it from absorbing other flavors in the fridge.

Ensure there’s some airflow to prevent the cheese from becoming too moist.

Can you freeze hard cheese for extended preservation?

Yes, you can freeze hard cheese. Vacuum-seal the cheese or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap before placing it in the freezer.

Freezing can alter the texture, making it crumbly, but it will preserve the cheese’s flavor for longer storage periods.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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