Are you a feta fan, or a Gorgonzola groupie? Whatever your personal favourite, it seems that there’s a cheese to suit almost every type of dish, from cheesecake to mac 'n’ cheese, and from cannelloni to cannoli. Most of us have at least one type of cheese in our refrigerator most of the time, and to make sure it stays tasty for as long as possible, it’s important to store it correctly.
Milk curds are made into cheese with the help of microbes, and many varieties also rely on them for their unique flavour. In this sense, cheese can be seen as a living thing, which is why you’ll often hear people talking about letting it ‘breathe’. It should be chilled, to discourage mould growth, and kept in a breathable wrapper to keep it fresh and stop it from drying out.
How to store fresh cheese
Fresh cheese is cheese in its youngest, simplest form. Fresh cheeses undergo very little ageing or processing, other than curdling the milk and draining it, and they tend to have a light, fresh, occasionally tangy flavour. They are usually quite soft, and high in moisture, ranging in texture from creamy and spreadable to crumbly. Popular examples include mozzarella, ricotta, cream cheese, paneer and feta.
Many fresh cheeses are sold in tubs, either in spreadable form, or suspended in brine. These cheeses are fine as they are - simply leave them in their original packaging and store in the fridge.
How to store soft cheese
Soft cheese is cheese that has been allowed to mature, or ripen, for a short period of time. Soft cheeses tend to have a rind with a soft, runny centre. Popular varieties include Brie and Camembert, and semi-soft cheeses like Port Salut can also be included in this category for the purposes of storage.
Experts recommend storing soft cheeses unwrapped in a cheese dome, as their delicate rinds need plenty of air circulating around them to allow them to breathe. If you don’t have the room, wrap them in breathable cheese wrap and place them in the crisper drawer of your fridge, as this has the most consistent temperature and humidity.
How to store medium-hard or semi-hard cheese
Hard cheese refers to cheeses with lower moisture content, either because they have been pressed, or aged. Hardness is a scale rather than an easily defined category, and cheeses can be defined as medium-hard, semi-hard, or hard. Medium-hard and semi-hard cheeses are what most people would consider to be regular cheeses, including Cheddar, Cheshire, Monterey Jack, Gouda and Emmental.
These cheeses should be wrapped in breathable cheese wrap or parchment paper, then in aluminium foil, and placed in your crisper drawer. This double-wrap system allows the cheese to breathe, but traps in moisture to prevent it from drying out. Unlike soft cheese, harder cheeses are actually better kept wrapped, as exposing them to light in a cheese dome may cause them to oxidise.
How to store hard or aged cheese
The hardest cheeses are also known as aged cheeses. They are firmly packed, and can be aged for months or even years, giving them a hard texture and strong, piquant flavour. Popular varieties include Grana Padano, Pecorino and Parmesan. These cheeses should be stored in the same way as medium-and-semi-hard cheeses, wrapped in a layer of cheese wrap, followed by a layer of foil, and placed in the crisper drawer.
How to store blue cheese
Blue cheeses are flavoured with mould spores, giving them distinctive blue or green veins and a strong, salty flavour. Popular varieties include Roquefort, Gorgonzola and Blue Stilton.
It is particularly important to allow these types of cheese to breathe, as the mould spores will die without oxygen, and may become discoloured or start to taste bad. Again, experts recommend double-wrapping with cheese wrap and foil, then placing in the crisper drawer.
Can you freeze cheese?
Cheese is best eaten fresh, but it is possible to freeze certain types of cheese. When you freeze cheese it loses moisture and may become hard and crumbly. For this reason, you should avoid freezing soft, or fresh cheeses, as it will ruin their fresh, creamy texture. Firmer cheeses like cheddar or Parmesan tend to freeze better, but will be better suited to melting or cooking once they have thawed. Grate the cheese before you freeze it, as it may be tricky afterwards.
How long does cheese last?
Different types of cheese last for different lengths of time, with some soft cheeses spoiling in just a few days, while aged hard cheeses will keep for months.
Hard cheeses and semi-hard cheeses like Parmesan or Cheddar will keep unopened in the fridge for 2 to 4 months, but should be used within 6 weeks once opened.
Medium-hard to semi-soft cheeses like Gouda or Gruyère will keep for 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge once opened.
Soft cheeses like Mozzarella, Brie and Gorgonzola should be consumed within 1, or 2 weeks at most, as their higher water content makes them more susceptible to spoiling.
Tips and tricks
Cheese is best stored in the fridge, but it actually tastes better at room temperature. Unless you’re using it for cooking, allow the cheese to sit on the counter for a while until it returns to room temperature.
Wrap your cheese in fresh paper after each use to keep it at its best. Most cheese wrap is washable, so you can reuse it several times and keep a few pieces in rotation.
Mould isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. If you find a tiny bit, it’s often fine to cut it off and keep the rest of the cheese. This only really applies to harder cheeses, however, and if the cheese looks strange or smells off, don’t eat it.
Now you know how to keep your cheese at its best for longer, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to try some of these mouthwatering cheese dishes.
Cheese scones: a savoury twist on the classic scone, these baked treats are delicious served warm with butter.
Carrot and blue cheese gratin: this creamy and colourful dish makes a comforting and hearty vegetarian meal, or a truly decadent side,
Cheese and spinach pie: inspired by Greek spanakopita, this deliciously flaky pie is easy to make and completely gluten-free.
Cheese soufflé: impress your dinner guests with perfectly risen, fluffy cheese soufflés every time with this surprisingly simple recipe.
Pasta with fennel and three cheeses: this elegant pasta dish pairs fresh goat’s cheese, creamy ricotta and piquant Pecorino with fragrant fennel for a quick and tasty meal.
Broccoli and cheese casserole: this creamy casserole is made with gruyére cheese, cream and nutmeg with a crunchy breadcrumb topping, and makes a great side dish for Christmas or Thanksgiving.