Taking into mind how cheese is made, right from the very beginning to its aging process, one may certainly be tempted to think that it is one of the types of food that can never go bad.
Sadly, it does go bad. Besides, any proper cheesemonger who is worth their salt will tell you to eat your cheese as soon as possible, that is one sure way you know the cheese is always fresh and in prime condition.
A general rule of thumb when it comes to cheese is that when you buy the cheese and open up the packaging, you must begin with getting to know the cheese right off the bat. What do I mean by this? Look at the cheese. Taste the cheese. Take a whiff of the cheese.
Since cheeses are often paired or grouped into three main categories; the article shall aim to address each category in order to ensure you are covered no matter the type of cheese you go for.
These categories are:
- Hard Cheeses.
Examples of these are; parmesan and cheddar.
These types of cheeses tend to be lower in moisture content than any other cheese. When unopened, hard cheeses can last between 2 to 4 months in the refrigerator and between 6 to 8 months in the freezer depending on whether it has been stored correctly.
For the opened packets of hard cheese, between three to 6 weeks in the refrigerator and between 6 to 8 months in the freezer is most ideal.
- Semi-Hard to Semi-Soft Cheeses.
A good example of such cheese is Gouda.
For these semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses, the shell life is a little less than that of harder cheeses.
These types of cheeses tend to have more moisture content present in them than the harder cheeses and as such, they do not keep fresh as long as the hard cheeses.
The most ideal period of time to store unopened semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses is between 1 to 2 months while in the refrigerator and between 6 to 8 months while in the freezer.
Between 2 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator and between 6 to 8 months in the freezer is the ideal time for opened packets of such.
- Soft Cheeses.
Yes, you guessed it. These are cheeses like mozzarella, feta, cottage cheese, ricotta, and even cream cheese.
Due to their softer, less matured state, these soft cheeses will go bad much faster than their hard or semi-hard counterparts.
This means that the faster you consume or use them, the better. They as such can only last between 1 and 2 weeks while in the refrigerator and are not ideal for freezing.
How to store your cheese
The key to keeping your cheese in optimum condition lies in properly choosing your cheese and appropriately storing it. These steps can help keep the cheese in tip-top shape and free from spoilage.
When doing your selection, ensure the cheese is smooth in texture, with no cracks or mold present. Also, ensure that the cheese is not discolored.
When it comes to hard cheeses, the best course of action is to refrigerate them promptly. Ensure that before you put away your cheese in the refrigerator, you have wrapped it. Anything from parchment paper or even plastic wrap will do the trick.
The idea is to avoid wrapping it too tight, this reduces the rate at which the cheese goes bad. Ensure that the temperature is 4 degrees Celsius or lower if possible. Cheeses should not be kept out of the refrigerator for longer than two hours at a time. Refrigerate after each use.
For semi-hard to semi-soft cheeses, wrap the cheese in the parchment paper as well but add a layer of protection by putting it in a Ziploc bag (or any other resealable bag).
This will also ensure that cheese smell does not diffuse into the rest of the food in the fridge or vice versa.
For soft cheeses, the best advice I can give you is to put your cheese in a plastic jar and store it right in the refrigerator.
For a long-term option, you can go a step further and freeze your hard cheese for a few months. Of course, ensure that you use a freezer-safe container.
It is important to note that though the cheese will last and still be mostly good when frozen, you will definitely note a change in taste and texture later when you thaw it for use. They may also appear to be dry and crumbly when thawed.
How to tell if your cheese has gone bad.
When it comes to cheese, perishability has a lot to do with the moisture content of the kind of cheese that you have. Admittedly, when you are trying to see whether or not your cheese has gone bad, your senses are your best bet on figuring it out.
Like with most cheeses, the signs of spoilage are usually just in plain sight. If you notice any mold start to grow on the cheese, it has most certainly started to go bad.
Most times you can just cut off the moldy part (an inch of the surrounding parts as well) and still eat it (as long as the cheese is not completely covered).
You also need to pay keen attention to the mold you see, white, blue, or green mold is natural and sort of normal, red or black mold is another case and any cheese with these molds should be thrown out.
This is especially the case for the hard cheeses and the semi-hard ones. Soft cheeses tend to differ a bit.
Any sign of mold and you should definitely toss the whole thing out. This is because due to its soft nature, mold can penetrate these soft cheeses much quickly.
Another sign that the cheese has gone bad is a change in its smell and taste. Fresh cheese should neither smell nor taste like spoiled or sour milk. If a small bite of the cheese makes your tongue or lips tingle or have a sort of burning sensation, the cheese is bad (even if it passed the visual and odor tests).
Always ensure to spit it out and rinse out your mouth with clean water (at no cost should you swallow the cheese).
Can expired cheese make you sick?
Food products tend to be labeled with expiry dates in order to give the consumer of the said food product information as to the food’s freshness. The most important thing to do in such instances when determining whether to consume food past its expiration date is to use your common sense and instincts.
For hard cheeses, consumption after the expiry date has passed can be safe just as long as you ensure that you cut off the mold-covered part of the cheese and at least an inch off of the surrounding parts and areas of cheese.
You also have to be keen to notice whether the cheese is giving off a funky smell. Ideally, it should still smell right, anything off-odor is a big no-no. For the semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses, a stay of between two to four weeks past the date of expiration is good enough.
This is, however, not the case for soft cheeses, for these ones, once the expiry date has passed, just throw the whole thing out.
The setting in the period, that is, the time between when you consume the contaminated cheese and the onset or beginning of the symptoms showing and presenting, can range from as short as a few hours or even as long as several weeks (this is entirely different for every individual due to factors such as how much of the contaminated cheese was consumed and the severity of the contamination of the cheese).
It ought to be common knowledge that molds can carry harmful bacteria, including Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and even Brucella. All of these bacteria are more than capable of causing food poisoning.
The symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, stomach pain, and diarrhea. In extreme cases, that is where the listed symptoms present more severely, it may lead to death.
Dangerous molds can also produce mycotoxins. According to the World Health Organization, mycotoxins may be defined as toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of molds (fungi).
These molds that produce mycotoxins grow on numerous foodstuffs such as cereals, dried fruits, nuts, and even spices.
The effects of these mycotoxins can range anywhere from acute food poisoning (this is where the symptoms listed above are extreme, for instance, a fever of more than thirty-eight degrees Celsius and diarrhea for a period of more than two days thus leading to dehydration) to immune deficiency and even cancer in some extreme cases.
This is in particular due to the carcinogen aflatoxin has been shown to increase your risk of liver cancer.
The best way to minimize your risk of contact with mycotoxin is definitely to avoid eating moldy cheese and to always practice safe storage.