Yes, You Can Freeze Extra Cheese! Here's What You Need to Know
Is there anything sadder than tossing out a hunk of pricey cheese that has gone bad? Even the most devoted cheese connoisseurs, those with a fridge drawer full of artisan delights, don't eat it every single day; sometimes we all have more cheese than we can enjoy before it spoils. This begs the question: Can you extend the life of your cheese by freezing it? Yes, but before you get started it's important to know the ground rules. Thankfully, Josh Windsor, caves manager at Murray's Cheese, has shared all the information we need to be able to freeze cheese—the right way.
"It is possible to freeze cheese to extend its shelf life. How you intend to use the cheese and what kind of cheese you are freezing will play a big part in your success. In general, cheese that is intended to be used for cooking is going to freeze better than a cheese that is intended to be served on its own," Windsor says, noting that the harder the cheese, the better it will hold up to being frozen. Also, if the cheese has a natural rind (that is, an innate outer covering of the cheese, as is the case with Camembert, clothbound cheddar, St. Nectaire), you might not want to freeze it; doing so can create some undesirable flavors.
What Cheeses Are Best to Freeze?
Before you start moving all of your cheeses to the freezer, it's important to understand which should and should not be frozen. "Cheeses that are best suited to freezing are semi-firm to firm blocks with no rind [around the cheese] and are intended to be melted into a dish after thawing. This includes all the blocks and loaves of cheddar, Jack, Colby, mozzarella, muenster, provolone, and so forth that you find in the grocery store aisle," says Windsor. When cheese is frozen its water and fat content form ice crystals that can damage the protein structure of cheese, he explains, adding that both fat and protein contribute to the texture of cheese and how it performs under heat. "Freezing these types of cheese will make them more crumbly, mealy, and difficult to slice, but they will continue to melt just fine," says Windsor. "You may not get that picture-perfect grilled cheese pull with frozen cheese, but you will still have a delightfully delicious sandwich."
Are There Any You Should Avoid Freezing?
Softer cheeses aren't the best bet for your freezer due to their higher moisture content, which translates to more water to form more ice crystals. "This can significantly damage its structure and leave you with an undesirable pool of previously delicious cheese when thawed," says Windsor. If you're thinking of freezing a cheese that's destined for an appetizer spread or cheese board, think again. "The degradation of texture will be very noticeable for any frozen cheese that is eaten plain," he says.
What's the Right Way to Freeze Cheese?
Assuming the cheese is suitable for freezing, Windsor says there are three recommended ways to package a cheese for freezing. "Regardless of which method you use the cheese should be trimmed into a uniform shape (cube, rectangle, etc.) with level surfaces before freezing," he says. "The goal of packaging is to reduce as much contact with oxygen while the cheese is frozen." And he notes which method you use will impact the length of time a cheese can be frozen before it should be thawed.
First and foremost, you can use a vacuum sealer, which is our expert's preferred method of freezing cheese. "The best method for preparing a cheese for freezing is to use a kitchen vacuum sealer. This method virtually eliminates the contact with the surrounding air and allows cheese to be frozen the longest," he explains. If that's not an option for you, try parchment paper followed by aluminum foil. "Tightly wrap the cheese in parchment paper and then in aluminum foil. The parchment paper will create a decent barrier for the cheese, while the foil will help keep everything in place while freezing," Windsor says. As a last resort, use a freezer bag: This is not the best option but it will work if you squeeze out as much excess air from the bag as possible before sealing, advises Windsor.
How Long Can You Freeze Cheese For?
Depending on which of the above methods you use, the length of time you can freeze a cheese for varies. "Vacuum sealing can preserve a cheese for up to two months, and the parchment/foil method will keep the cheese for one month," says Windsor. "If using a freezer bag, you should try and thaw the cheese after two weeks of storage."
What About Blue Cheese?
Blue cheese aficionados, perk up your ears. Occasionally, Windsor will come across a chef who will freeze blue cheese before using it. This is a practice he urges people to steer clear of, though. "The colored veins in blue cheese are a mold called Penicillium roqueforti. This mold is responsible for the characteristic flavors and aromas of blue cheese. Although it is a single species of mold in all blue cheeses, there are hundreds of different strains—each with their own unique tolerances to cold temperatures. Some can survive just fine, and others will not," he cautions. "It is impossible to know the acceptable temperature range of any particular blue mold in cheese, and it is best to not risk killing it off. As a person whose career is tending the mold in cheese, a poorly treated P. roqueforti colony is a heartbreaking sight."