Does Hard Cheese Go Bad?

So you’ve bought a large block or wedge of hard cheese. Maybe it’s Cheddar, Parmesan, or Pecorino, or one of the Dutch cheeses such as Edam or Gouda. The cheese sits in the fridge for some time, and you start to wonder: does hard cheese go bad?

Or you chose convenience and bought the cheese sliced for your sandwiches or grated for toppings. And you’re wondering how long does the cheese last in the fridge. Or you simply bought too much on a sale and want to know if freezing the cheese makes sense and how to do it.

Either way, if you have any questions regarding storage, shelf life, or going bad of hard cheese, this article is for you.

Hard cheese and a knife
Image used under Creative Commons from Bob Peters

How To Store Hard Cheese

It won’t come as a surprise that you should refrigerate cheese. That’s true for almost all hard cheeses, except some grated ones that are sold unrefrigerated. That’s the easy part. What’s more important is to know how to treat this dairy product after opening the package, so that it lasts the longest.

Let’s start with hard cheese sold in blocks or chunks. After opening the package, make sure you wrap it well when you put it back into the fridge. If the cheese comes in wax or cheese paper, and you can reuse it, that’s great. If not, you can use parchment paper, foil wrap, or go with a freezer bag (remember to squeeze out the air). The last method seems to be super effective on Parmesan, so there’s little reason it won’t work for other hard cheeses.

If you want to store a block or chunk for a prolonged period, freeze it. Proper wrapping is a must, as you need to protect the product from low temperature. Once again, a freezer bag is the way to go.

If it’s a huge block, consider cutting it into week’s-worth-of-cheese chunks. This way you won’t keep the product in the fridge for too long after thawing.

Tip

If you need that cheese for grating or shredding, take care of that before freezing it. That’s because freezing and thawing might change the texture a bit and makes processing the cheese more difficult.

Bottom line is hard cheeses freeze really well, at least compared to soft cheeses like Brie.

For sliced hard cheese like Gouda or Edam, storage guidelines are very similar. If the package is resealable, keep the cheese in it after opening. If not, transfer the container into a freezer bag or wrap the slices.

When it comes to freezing, the slices will stick to each other, so if you have a lot of cheese, it makes sense to divide it into a few portions. Freezer bags are super useful here.

Last but not least, let’s talk about shredded and grated hard cheeses. Most of them come refrigerated and that’ how you should store them. And even those that come unrefrigerated should be chilled in the fridge after opening.

In almost all cases such cheeses come in a resealable tube or canister, so there’s no need to repackage after opening. And like all other varieties, you can freeze those as well. That’s true especially because they usually are used for cooking, so the possible slight texture change is no big deal.

Info

Thaw frosted cheese in the fridge, possibly overnight.

Sliced Cheddar
Image used under Creative Commons from Steven Lilley

How Long Does Hard Cheese Last

Generally, the harder the cheese, the longer it lasts. Firm cheeses like Cheddar retain quality for about 4 to 6 months unopened, and then 3 to 4 weeks after opening. Hard cheeses like Parmesan or Pecorino keep well for even longer, up to 9 months unopened and 4 to 6 weeks opened. Dutch cheeses are the exception here. Both Edam and Gouda last about a month or so unopened, and up to two weeks after opening.

Fortunately enough, you don’t need to remember all of these dates. Cheese always comes with a sell-by or use-by date on the package. Unless you get a cut straight from the wheel, of course. And that date is a good starting point when it comes to the shelf life of the cheese.

Obviously, the cheese will retain good quality for some time past that date. While it’s impossible to say how long exactly, the longer the general shelf life of the cheese, the longer past the date on the label it will last and the longer you can keep it in the fridge after opening.

When it comes to shredded or grated hard cheeses sold refrigerated, they usually retain quality for up to a week.

 Fridge
Hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino; unopened)6 – 9 months or Use-by + 1 month
Hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino; opened)4 – 6 weeks
Firm cheese (Cheddar; unopened)4 – 6 months or Use-by + 2 – 3 weeks
Firm cheese (Cheddar; opened)3 – 4 weeks
Dutch cheese (Gouda, Edam; unopened)4 – 6 weeks or Use-by + 1 – 2 weeks
Dutch cheese (Gouda, Edam; opened)1 – 2 weeks
Shredded or grated hard cheese (unopened)Use-by + 1 week
Shredded or grated hard cheese (opened)5 – 7 days

Please note the periods above are estimates only.

How To Tell If Hard Cheese Has Gone Bad

Once again, let’s start with blocks and chunks of hard cheese. Prolonged storage sometimes results in mold growth, but you can simply cut off the moldy part (with some excess) and consume the rest. Other than mold, if the appearance (e.g., change in color) texture, smell, or taste of the cheese has changed noticeably, it’s time to let it go.

Of course, as long as you take good care of the cheese, it will likely last much longer than the periods noted above. While these guidelines aren’t super specific, for long-lasting cheeses going with your gut is often the best. If you don’t feel like the cheese is okay to eat, just toss it out.

When it comes to shredded and grated hard cheeses, the rules are a bit more strict. If any mold appears, throw out the entire package. The same thing for all noticeable changes noted above, especially changes in texture. Last but not least, if you have the shredded or grated cheese that’s not one of those super-long-lasting ones sold unrefrigerated, throw it out if it’s opened for more than 10 days.