Storage: Cheese!

Cheese is a food that most people love (unless you’re lactose-intolerant and it doesn’t love you!), and it’s worth buying in bulk to get it cheaper. Problem is, if you live alone or cook for one or two, how do you use up that much cheese before it gets moldy?

Well, one thing to know is that you can just cut the mold off of cheese if it DOES get moldy. Some things don’t work this way. Bad meat is bad meat – you need to throw it all out. And if your bread gets moldy, I’m sad to say that it will all taste like mold, even if you save the pieces that look mold-free. (I think the mold spores get all through the pores in the bread before they even start to grow.)

But dairy will not do that to you – if you cut off the mold you will in fact be fine. (Don’t tell your mother I told you this, but the same is true of yogurt and sour cream.)

Back to the original thought, though – how to use up the cheese BEFORE it gets moldy?

The answer is, you don’t. Cheese freezes beautifully. Some people know this and they freeze big hunks of cheese and then they thaw them later and have wet hunks of cheese and are just generally unhappy with the whole process. So let me give you a few tips:

Don’t freeze it in a big hunk. Grate it first and freeze it in a baggie. This is brilliant because then you can grab out a handful and toss it on top of your chili or baked potato or what have you any time you want. As long as your food is hot enough to melt the frozen cheese, you’ll be fine. Or you can toss it in a salad you pack in the morning and by the time you eat it at noon, the cheese will be thawed. Or, of course, you can add it to a dish you’re about to cook, like a lasagna you’re about to bake, and the cheese will become just as hot and gooey and delicious and brown as it’s supposed to, I promise.

When a person is cooking for one or two, lives-forever pre-grated frozen cheese is a godsend.

The other thing you can be aware of is that if you’re going to freeze and THAW the cheese, cheese does not like to be wet. And almost everything that gets frozen gets some frost on it, and when it thaws the frost adds moisture to the food.

So if you’re going to thaw a HUNK of cheese, make sure it stays dry. Take off the plastic and thaw it on a plate in the fridge, turning it over every once in a while so all the sides can dry, but watch it so that it doesn’t dry all out (or pick up funky flavors from the fridge.) You can also wrap it in parchment paper or wax paper, but who has those things when they’re on a tight budget?

I’m also a big believer in kitchen towels. Not the terry cloth kind like bath towels that everyone sells nowadays, but the linen or smooth cotton kind, like bar towels, that you can still find in thrift shops or on eBay or in bulk, sometimes, at a home goods store. A good linen kitchen towel is a tool of great versatility, and you can use it to make yogurt cheese just as easily as using it to dry the dishes. If I were going to thaw out a whole hunk of cheese – well, I wouldn’t, see above, but if I HAD to, I’d wrap it in a clean linen towel to let it thaw. And then wrap it in plastic the next day.

This photo is of cheese that’s in my fridge right now. We just bought a new big hunk of aged cheddar at Costco (and an end of it went into a very delicious quiche, some of which is in my tummy right now.) I cover the end with plastic and a rubber band and just work my way through it. If it starts to look damp or old or I’m just worried about not making it through fast enough, I grate the rest and throw it in a baggie.

There’s also some frozen grated mozzarella there. I love buying mozzarella on the theory that I’m going to make a pizza or a tomato salad, but then sometimes I don’t and I have the lovely cheese just sitting there. Packaged mozzarella lasts a long time, but this one was approaching its expiry date by the time I used part of it on top of a casserole. I grated the rest and threw it in a baggie. If I were worried about mixing it up with the cheddar cheese I’d write on the baggie with a Sharpie – but I can tell them apart by sight for now (the cheddar cheese is a lot smaller and grainier.)

It should go without saying, too, that being able to throw a handful of pre-grated cheese into whatever you’re fixing speeds up the cooking process tremendously. And anything that does that helps you cook quick. I know I’m more inclined to spend money I don’t have on food I shouldn’t eat when I know it’s going to take me more than ten minutes to put something together. Pre-grated cheese is a miracle at those times. But buying it that way is a waste of money. Buy the biggest block of cheese you can afford that you like, and use up every bit of it, now or later.

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