Can I freeze cheese?

Question: Can I freeze cheese? I buy big, bulk blocks of cheese at Costco, but I can't seem to use it up before it starts to mold.

Answer: If you were talking about a delicate and expensive Humboldt Fog goat cheese or a fine French Camembert you smuggled into the country, the answer would be, most emphatically, NO. Send it to me, and I'll finish it off for you.

But since this is a big, industrial block of cheese we're discussing, yeah, you can freeze it -- but it'll never be the same again. Because of the moisture content or vein-y, open texture of most cheeses, ice crystals develop inside as cheese freezes. (Hey, that rhymes!) The ice “breaks" the curds in the cheese apart, which alters the texture of the cheese from creamy and smooth to crumbly or grainy when it thaws.

Fresh cheeses, like goat, feta, and moz, and flavorful, semi-soft cheeses (think: brie, havarti) lose the most in quality, texture, and flavor once frozen. Parmigiano Reggiano, cheddar, and other aged, hard cheeses fare best.

The trick to freezing cheese is proper storage: Tightly wrap the cheese several times in plastic wrap. Drop the wrapped cheese into a zip-top bag and squeeze (or suck) the air out of the bag before sealing it. (If you were smart and put a Food Saver on your wedding registry, getting an air-tight seal and saving cheese is sooo much easier. And it lasts five times longer.) Otherwise, use all cheese within two months of freezing.

Frozen cheese should always be thawed before using, and it works best baked in casseroles, like a Zesty Beef Casserole or an Enchilada Casserole. Goat and blue cheese, which can be funky and crumbly anyway, work just fine stuffed and baked inside a chicken breast. Because it dries out so much during freezing, fresh/frozen mozzarella will be inedible in a Caprese salad, but it cooks and melts nicely on a Margherita Pizza.

Now for my real advice: Don't buy so much cheese in bulk. It's one thing to stock up and save by buying a 48-pack of TP, two gallons of shampoo, or anything else with a really long shelf life. Buying bread or big cuts of meat in bulk makes sense because the overall quality of the food isn't damaged by freezing. But cheese is delicate. It's something you eat with your eyes closed. Even the industrial stuff is too good to be sentenced to the freezer.


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