Nothing compliments a nice spaghetti dish better better than freshly grated cheese, but those cheeses always come in such big pieces. There’s no way to use the whole thing at once! Can hard cheese go bad, and how long does it last?
Can Hard Cheese Go Bad?
Like all dairy products, hard cheese can actually go bad. The spoiling process does take longer with harder cheeses like Asiago, Pecorino Romano, Gruyere, aged Gouda and parmesan, as their moisture content is a lot lower than soft cheeses. With proper storage, a piece of hard cheese can have a shelf life of up to nine months in the refrigerator.
Hard cheeses that have been grated or shredded have a far shorter shelf life, as there is more surface area exposed to the air. Properly sealed grated or shredded hard cheese will typically last for around two months in the refrigerator.
How to Store Hard Cheese
Hard cheese should be tightly wrapped and stored in the cheese drawer of your refrigerator, or at least in a location that will have constant moisture and temperature levels. The best way to wrap hard cheese is in wax paper, which will allow the cheese to breath, but protect it from too much air exposure.
Image used under Creative Commons from Didriks
Most of the time, cheese will come wrapped in plastic wrap. While this is easier for the retailer, and is fine for the short time that the cheese spends on store shelves, cheese should not be wrapped in plastic long term. The cheese will start to absorb the plastic, and will have an unpleasant flavor. Wrapping cheese in plastic long term also does not allow for enough air flow. You could store the cheese in a sealable container.
Grated and shredded hard cheeses should be stored in a tightly sealing container, and stored away from excess moisture. Grated and shredded cheese are particularly sensitive to humidity, and will grow mold at a faster rate.
Can You Freeze Hard Cheese?
Hard cheeses actually freeze quite well, due to their low moisture content. A properly wrapped block of hard cheese can remain in the freezer for up to six months. Wrap blocks of cheese in wax paper and then either in plastic wrap, or place them in an airtight container before freezing to eliminate exposure to the air and moisture in the freezer. Grated and shredded hard cheese should also be stored in an airtight container.
Frozen cheese may undergo some texture changes as it freezes, so serving previously frozen cheese on a cheese platter is not recommended. However, there will be little to no difference in the texture of the cheese when it’s cooked. Because of the texture changes, and the fact that hard cheese actually has a longer shelf life outside of the freezer, it should be kept in the refrigerator for as long as possible.
Hard cheese can easily be thawed overnight in the refrigerator, and should be used within a week of thawing. Refreezing thawed cheese is not recommended.
Signs That Hard Cheese Has Gone Bad
Mold is really the most noticeable form of spoilage in hard cheese. Fortunately, if a block of hard cheese has a spot of mold, it may simply be cut or scraped off, and the rest of the cheese enjoyed. However, once grated or shredded hard cheeses begin to mold, the entire container should be discarded.
When cheese is left at room temperature for too long, it may dry out and take on an oily sheen as the fat comes to the top. At this point, the cheese should no longer be consumed. Eventually, the cheese will become hard and turn rancid, and the odor may become sour. Cheese that has been in the refrigerator for too long may also dry out and become hard. If just a small piece of the cheese is hard, it can be cut off and the remaining piece enjoyed.