In general, it’s best to buy smaller amounts of cheese at more frequent intervals. When extenuating circumstances arise, here are the cheeses that you can safely (and deliciously!) keep around for a while.
Cheese, though it does feel like a kitchen essential, doesn’t quite last like flour, sugar, or salt. Some folks like to freeze their cheese for long-term storage, but the texture will be compromised and it’s best to only save cheese that you’re planning to cook with or grate. Whenever possible, cheesemongers recommend that you buy less cheese more frequently. But if it’s not possible, that’s okay!
The longevity of a cheese really depends on proper storage—butcher paper or wax paper is best for most cheese because it allows it to breathe without drying out.
To make things even more complicated, different cheeses last for different amounts of time in your fridge. Softer cheeses, like Brie or Camembert, will last for a week or two, maybe even three if you’re lucky. Harder cheeses will last much longer, from a few months to basically forever. Lower water content in your cheese means there’s less chance for bacteria to grow in and on it.
If you do decide to keep lots of cheese in your fridge, try to do one big piece per variety, rather than a few smaller pieces of each. That will maximize your cheese’s chance of survival.
Cheese is one of those foods where expiration dates aren’t your best guide for whether or not it’s still good. With soft cheeses, mold growth or drying out means it’s gone bad. Most hard cheese won’t “go bad” in the traditional sense, but it might grow some mold or dry out.
If the outside of your hard cheese is dry or moldy, just give each compromised side a bit of a trim. Underneath, you should find cheese with a better texture. This is called “facing” and it’s a pretty common practice in the professional cheese world.
After around a year of proper aging (i.e. the aging done before it’s sold, not aging in your fridge), the fermentation process produces crystals, sometimes misidentified as salt crystals. While the crystals aren’t the reason a cheese will last longer in your fridge, cheese with visible crystallization will last longer in general, thanks to the loss of moisture that happens during the aging process.
Itching to stockpile some cheese in your fridge for a rainy day? Here are the cheeses to start with:
Cheddar, in general, is higher and salt than other cheeses, meaning that it’s almost invincible when it comes. Even younger Cheddar will last pretty well in your fridge (especially when stored properly), but anything aged more than a year will be quite hardy. Look for “cloth bound cheddar,” which has a food-safe cloth rind stuck on with butter or lard before the aging process begins. The cloth binding allows for the development of more complex flavor during the aging process, plus it will last longer in your fridge thanks to the slow release of moisture by the cloth rind. Cabot Clothbound or Flory’s Truckle are two fantastic American-made versions to look for.
Parmigiano Reggiano (and Parmesan, Grana Padano, etc.)
You don’t become the king of Italian cheese without some serious durability. In Italy, Parmesan is often stored at room temperature without going bad. In fact, if you’re just buying one cheese to keep in your fridge for as long as it takes to go through the block, buy some Parm. Even the rinds can be thrown into stocks, soups, and pots of beans for a hit of savory flavor. If you’re buying American Parmesan, check the age. If it’s aged for at least 12 months, it should have a similar durability as the more authentic stuff.
We’re not talking about the stuff encased in red wax. This would be anything aged more than a year, which usually has a more butterscotchy flavor. For the extra crunchy texture and caramelly flavor, look for Beemster Classic 18-Month Aged Gouda or L’Amuse Signature Gouda