Has your cheese gone past its expiration date? If it has, be sure to check it thoroughly before you toss it out. You could be one of the millions of Americans throwing away perfectly good cheese. According to food experts, numerous varieties of cheese are able to last well past their expiration dates. And knowing how long it will take for your cheese to spoil can keep you from wasting food and money.
Hard cheese - The cheeses in this category include Asiago, cheddar, Romano, and Parmesan. Due to their low moisture content compared to other cheeses, they have a longer shelf life than the rest. Unopened blocks of hard cheese can keep in the refrigerator for up to four months, and twice that long or eight months in the freezer. When stored properly in the refrigerator, opened hard cheese can last up to six weeks. Any mold that has grown on your hard cheese can be scraped off without worry, the rest of the cheese will be safe to eat.
Semi-hard and semi-soft cheese - Gouda, Emmental, and Gruyère fall into these groups. Opened semi-hard and semi-soft will do well in the refrigerator for two to three weeks, and upwards of two months in the freezer. Cheeses of either variety do best when kept in their original packaging. Leftovers can be wrapped in parchment paper and kept inside a Ziploc bag to reduce air exposure.
Soft cheese - The high moisture content of cheeses like mozzarella, feta, Brie, and cream cheese means that they will go bad in a week or two. This is because bacteria such as listeria thrive in raw milk and raw milk products, soft cheeses included. Any soft cheese that has mold on it should be thrown out immediately to prevent food poisoning. While freezing may extend their shelf life, doing so will cause these cheeses to loose their texture once they've been defrosted. The best way to store soft cheeses is in their unopened, original packaging until they're slated to be eaten or used. Cling film can encourage mold growth on the surface of soft cheeses, so avoid doing this as much as possible.
If you're still unsure as to whether or not your cheese — whatever it may be — has gone bad, you can always smell and/or taste it. Cheeses with a strong ammoniated or sharp urine-like smell are no longer fit for consumption. As for taste, keep in mind that cheese will keep on ripening well after it's been purchased and that its taste and texture will change while in storage. However, if your cheese causes your lips, tongue, or cheeks to burn or tingle, then it's not safe to eat anymore.
The truth about expiration dates
Expiration dates aren't always slapped onto foods to inform you of their time frame of edibility. More often than not, they're tacked on to foods to give consumers an idea about the freshness and longevity of the foods. Any food that has gone past its expiration date will decline in taste quality, but it won't become unhealthy. (Related: What the Dates on Your Food Really Mean.)
Moreover, terms like “Use by” or “Best if used on” or “Sell by” don't all mean the same thing. “Sell by” is more for the retailer than the consumer, “Use by” is added in reference to the desired quality and not the safety of the product, while “Best if used on” is more or less the same thing.
Don't let labels force you to send perfectly good food to the trash. The expiration dates of cheeses may be set artificially early, but you shouldn't let them tell you how good or how bad your cheese is.