Got a few kinds of cheese in the fridge, and not sure which ones you should finish soon and which ones you don’t? How long does cheese last?
With the number of different varieties and kinds of cheese out there, it’s easy to get confused. That’s where this guide comes in.
For ease of use, I divided it into two parts.
The first covers general shelf life guidelines for all the major cheese categories: hard, semi-hard to semi-soft, and soft cheeses. If you want a brief overview on how to deal with pretty much all cheese types you can get your hands on, start there.
If, on the other hand, you want to learn more about a specific type of cheese (like Parmesan or Brie), the second part is for you. In it, I talk in more detail about most cheese types out there.
Here’s handy navigation:
Storage Time by Cheese Category
In most sources, cheese types are divided into four categories: hard, semi-hard, semi-soft, and soft cheeses. I merged both in-the-middle ones to one because they are quite similar.
Of course, this division isn’t perfect (e.g., some people classify Cheddar as hard, others as semi-hard cheese), but you can usually guess which category the cheese you have on hand belongs to.
To help you out, I listed a couple of examples for each category so that you know what we’re talking about.
Want to jump straight to one of them? Here are the links:
Hard cheeses, like e.g., Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Parmesan), Grana Padano, or Pecorino, usually last for 4 to 6 months. As long as they’re unopened, they most often will still be quite alright after a month to two months after the date on the label.
Once you open the package, hard cheeses retain good quality for between a month and two months, assuming you store them properly. That means wrapping them in something breathable, like cheesecloth, parchment paper, or wax paper.
I usually store open parmesan in an airtight container, and it retains quality for more than a month. If you don’t have cheesecloth or parchment paper, such a container is an okayish solution.
Furthermore, hard cheeses freeze really well because of their low moisture content. If you have no plans for using that parmesan, place it in a freezer bag and into the freezer. Or, better yet, grate it first if you’re likely to use it grated anyway.
When to toss? If it’s all dried up or covered in mold, it’s time for it to go. If there’s only a tiny bit of mold, you can cut it off with some extra and use the rest. Also, pay attention to the smell. If it’s sour or “funny,” discard it.
Semi-hard to Semi-Soft Cheeses
Semi-hard and semi-soft cheeses, e.g., Emmental, Gouda, Cheddar, Roquefort, or Gruyère, last between a month and a couple of months. Most of them easily keep quality for an extra 2 to 3 weeks after their date.
Once you open the package, you get a pretty generous 2 to 4 weeks of good quality.
When it comes to storage, there are two options:
- Wrap the leftovers in parchment or cheese paper and place them in a food (or freezer) bag. That will help to preserve the quality of the cheese for the longest. Not for the lazy people out there, though.
- Reuse the original packaging. Usually, you can get away with just rolling or wrapping the top of the package. Or resealing it, if it’s one of those resealable ones. I do this all the time, and it works well.
Moreover, most cheeses in this category freeze quite well. If you’ve bought excess on a sale, divide it into several smaller portions, and freeze it in freezer bags. There might be a slight difference in taste after thawing, but that’s about it.
When to toss? If it’s all dried up or starts to grow mold that wasn’t there to begin with. Or if the smell or taste seems off for whatever reason.
Soft cheeses include various options, such as cream cheese, Brie, feta, ricotta, mozzarella, cottage cheese, and more. And, despite what other sites tell you, the storage time for those differ significantly.
Cream cheese, for example, lasts for a couple of months unopened, and one that’s two to three weeks after its date is often fine. But it keeps for only about a week once you open it.
On the other hand, we have Brie. It keeps best for up to a week (maybe two) past its date, no matter when you open it. That’s because the cheese continues to ripen even in your fridge.
Other soft cheeses are somewhere in between, and it’s difficult to come up with some general storage and shelf life guidelines for this entire category. If you have one of these, check the second part of the article.
When to toss? When it grows mold that’s not native to the cheese, or the quality gets too bad. The quality aspect depends entirely on the type of cheese we’re talking about.
For example, cottage cheese might separate a bit, but there shouldn’t be a layer of liquid on top, and the rest one big clump.
If you remember how that cheese looked and tasted like when it was fresh, in most cases, you can tell if there’s something wrong with it. And if that problem is severe enough to discard the cheese.
Some minor quality issues are okay, like the mentioned separation.
Storage Time by Cheese Type
In this part of the guide, I talk in more detail about the most popular types of cheese.
Of course, there are many more types out there, including some obscure ones available only in certain regions. But, in almost all cases, you should find a similar one in the list below.
Also, wherever I could, I included my own photos of the cheese. If you’re not sure what exactly you have on hand, those images should help.
If you can’t find your cheese or a similar one, try to fit what you have into one of the categories from the previous part, and read the general guidelines I provided.
I ordered all the types from hard to soft, but you don’t have to go through the entire thing. Instead, use this navigation:
- Swiss Cheese
- American Cheese
- Dutch Cheeses
- Sliced Cheese
- String Cheese
- Cottage Cheese
- Cream Cheese
- Goat Cheese
Parmesan (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
A parmesan block keeps quality for a month or two after its date and up to two months of opening.
Besides blocks, you can also buy shredded parmesan, which is a bit tricky.
You can find it sold both refrigerated and unrefrigerated, and the storage time for them vary widely. The former keeps for a rather limited time, while the latter lasts for months, even after opening.
Long story short, read the label if you’re buying the shredded variety.
Want to learn more? Check out my article on the storage and shelf life of parmesan. And if you’re interested in making it last even longer, here’s an article that answers the question: can you freeze parmesan?
Pecorino is kind of like parmesan but made with sheep’s milk. That means it keeps quality for at least a month or two after its date, and a month or two of opening.
As usual, remember to keep the cheese wrapped after opening, but allow a bit of air in. It might be as simple as placing the original bag in a freezer bag and leaving a tiny hole at the end of the zipper.
Swiss Cheese (including Emmental, Gruyere, Asiago)
Swiss cheeses are a group of semi-hard to hard cheeses, and pretty much all of them last for a couple of months. Or up to a month after the sell-by date.
Once you open the package, they keep for 3 to 4 weeks if you store them sealed and don’t introduce any bacteria that might cause mold growth.
Most Swiss-type cheeses, except Emmental, have few or no holes (or “eyes”). Which is funny because many people call any cheese that has holes “Swiss cheese.”
Unopened cheddar lasts for a couple of months of production, and between two weeks to more than a month past its date. It all depends on the variety.
Some cheddar cheeses are aged for much longer than others, and therefore better retain quality. Others, especially those cheddar-style cheeses, have a relatively short storage time of maybe two months and about two weeks of opening.
The easiest way to go about that is to look closely at what you have.
If yours is hard and crumbly, similar to parmesan or pecorino, it will likely last for quite some time. But if it’s on the softer side, reminding you of cheese that you slice and put in your sandwiches, it probably won’t last more than two weeks of opening.
American cheese is processed cheese that’s usually similar to cheddar. More often than not, the most important difference is that it lasts much longer than cheddar. It keeps for a long time in the fridge, even after opening the package.
American cheese often contains extra preservatives that prevent it from losing quality and growing mold, hence the long shelf life.
If you buy it pre-sliced, and each individual slice (often called a “single”) is wrapped, you can easily use it until the date on the label (and then some), no matter when you opened the bag.
Dutch Cheeses (Gouda, Edam)
Dutch cheeses are usually sold with a storage time of up to two months, and should stay fine for an extra week or two.
Once you open the package, finish the block within about two weeks. If you need more time, cut it into portions and freeze.
The Dutch also have their own Swiss cheese with “eyes”: Maasdam.
Unopened sliced cheeses last between a few weeks to up to two months, depending on what you have.
If it’s sliced Gouda or cheddar, its storage time will end up on the higher end.
But if it’s sliced goat cheese or one of those specialty products with extra ingredients and seasonings, it won’t last nearly as long. Those usually keep for a total of a month, and up to a week after opening.
Provolone is another semi-hard cheese that lasts for a couple of weeks past its date, and between a week and two weeks of opening the package. If you bought it sliced, eat it within a week.
An important thing about provolone is that its taste might be wildly different between brands.
If you’re buying the “real” PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) Provolone from Italy, its taste should be quite sharp. But if you’re buying American Provolone, it will probably taste relatively mild.
There might be a lot of confusion if you’re used to the American variety, and you accidentally buy the one from Italy. Check the label if your provolone tastes nothing like how it usually does.
String cheese, a popular lunchbox ingredient, lasts for two, sometimes even three weeks after the date on the label.
Once you open up the package, try to use all the sticks within a week. If your mozzarella sticks are single-wrapped, assume each one lasts as long as an unopened package.
Muenster cheese is a semi-soft cheese that keeps for a couple of weeks past its date, as long as it’s unopened.
Once you open the package, use it within two weeks if it’s a chunk or a block, or within a week if you bought it sliced.
Blue cheese, such as Roquefort or Gorgonzola, lasts about a week past their date if we’re talking about wedges. Crumbles tend to keep for a bit longer past their date and often have a much longer shelf life in general.
Opening the container doesn’t matter much for wedges, but crumbles tend to keep for only about a week.
Freezing blue cheese is an option. Its taste changes a bit, and it becomes more crumbly after thawing, but fairly okay to eat. I wouldn’t serve it to my guests on a cheese platter, though.
Ricotta cheese should keep for a few days after its date and up to a week after opening the container. Keep the leftovers sealed tight so that you don’t introduce any microbes that might spoil the cheese prematurely.
If you ever considered freezing it, you should know that it separates noticeably. You might find it okay to eat as-is after defrosting, but it works best in cooked or baked dishes.
Cottage cheese usually keeps for only a couple of days past the date on the label. You should finish the leftovers within 5 to maybe 7 days and store them in an airtight container.
Some separation is okay if your cottage cheese is pushing its date, but it shouldn’t look like the product is divided into two layers: solid on the bottom and liquid on top. If that’s how your cottage cheese looks like, toss it.
When it comes to freezing, cottage cheese separates noticeably, making it useful only in cook and baked recipes. Eating it on its own isn’t a pleasant experience.
Interested in learning more? Read my take on the shelf life and signs of spoilage of cottage cheese, and my guide to freezing cottage cheese.
Fresh mozzarella keeps for maybe a week past the date on the label.
When it comes to leftovers, their storage time depends entirely on how you store them.
If you keep them in brine, they can last for up to a week (maybe more). But if you didn’t save the brine or make your own, all you get is 2 to 3 days before it starts to dry out or grow mold.
Besides fresh mozzarella, there is also mozzarella sold in blocks, that’s often used as a pizza topping and for melting. It lasts a bit longer than its fresh counterpart.
Velveeta isn’t technically a cheese, but a “cheese product.”, and it’s the only food product on this list that doesn’t require refrigeration until you open it.
This cheese comes with a long shelf life, and it should retain quality for at least a couple of weeks past its date.
When it comes to leftovers, you get a generous eight weeks to eat them, which is a clear indicator that it’s not just “cheese.”
Want to learn more? Read my article on Velveeta.
Brie cheese retains best quality for about a week, maybe up to two weeks past its date, no matter when you open it.
It continues to ripen at all times, and at a certain point, it might taste a bit too sharp for your liking. That’s when you get rid of it.
Brie freezes okayish but not good enough to add it to a cheese platter after defrosting. It’s best to melt it.
Camembert keeps quality for a week, maybe two weeks, after its date. Like Brie, it doesn’t really matter when you open the package and start eating it.
If you ever considered freezing Camembert, the results are okayish, but nothing to write home about. Again, it works best if you melt it.
Unopen feta lasts for about a week or two past its date. Once you open it, it all depends on how you store the leftovers.
If you save the brine (or make your own), the remaining feta can stay safe for up to 4 weeks. Without the brine, all you get is a week or so in an airtight container before it grows mold.
Cream cheese lasts for even up to 3 to 4 weeks past the date on its label. It depends on the brand, though.
Once you open the container, it keeps for about a week or so.
There might be a small amount of liquid on top if it’s already pushing its date, but that’s it. If it’s solid and no longer spreadable, it’s time for it to go. Same if any mold appears.
When it comes to freezing, you can get it back to an okay (but not great) shape after thawing with a bit of work.
For goat cheese, it all depends on the exact type of cheese that you have.
If it’s one of those firm cheeses reminding you of parmesan, it’ll most likely keep for months in storage, and a month or even two after opening. But if it’s more like Brie, it won’t keep for nearly as long.
If you want to know how long your goat cheese will last, find a similar cheese in this list. Chances are storage times are pretty similar.
Bought goat cheese and not sure what to do? Here’s my take on how long goat cheese is good for.