Cheese is arguably the most diverse and expressive of all the preserved foods humans have devised. Food historians agree that cheese was created from a need to preserve milk for survival—it’s made by coagulating, compressing, and (often, but not always) ripening milk curds that have separated from the thin liquid known as whey. Food scientist Paul Kindstedt of the University of Vermont says the reason the world has over 1,400 cheeses today is because different cheesemaking locales presented different hurdles to overcome, and thus, produced different adaptations that have yielded today’s great cheeses. But with the rise of modern preservation methods like freezing, many wonder if it’s possible to store cheese itself at subfreezing temperatures for even longer keeping. Cheesemongers and artisan cheesemakers seem to be unanimous on this: heck no. And why, many ask, would you even want to in the first place?
Erin Coffield, RD of the National Dairy Council, explains it’s okay to freeze cheese from a food safety and nutrition viability standpoint, but the taste and texture will change. From a scientific standpoint, I discovered this is due to cheese’s open texture and moisture content. Ice crystals form that actually break apart the curds, morphing the cheese from moist and smooth to dry and crumbly.
If you are desperate to extend the shelf life of cheese, freezing can be done with a few rules. First, never try to freeze a cave-aged cheese like Humboldt Fog—it’s just too delicate. Likewise fresh cheeses with high moisture content, like ricotta and cream cheese, are destroyed by freezing. Nora Singley, resident cheesemonger at The Kitchn, notes that mass-produced block cheeses like cheddar, Monterey Jack, and provolone do OK because they’re processed (and therefore hardier), and grating cheeses like Parm, dry Jack, and Asiago can survive the freezer—despite Cathy Goldsmith’s concerns—because of their low moisture content. (Many cooks freeze Parmesan rinds to simmer in stocks and soups.) There are even reports on Chowhound of success freezing shredded processed cheese like mozzarella, something I do in my own kitchen.
If you do opt for the freezer, the cheese that emerges is best used for melting. To store properly, wrap the cheese snugly in plastic film, then place in a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing. Thaw in the fridge before using, and try to use it up within a month of freezing to avoid freezer burn.
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