Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Freeze cheese? Go ahead!

Ever wish, when the local grocery holds a massive cheese markdown sale, that you could stock up while the prices are in the basement? But how in the world would you use all of that cheese before it turns into a fuzzy green lab experiment in your refrigerator? What if you could FREEZE it!? Yes, you certainly CAN freeze most cheeses, but there are a few specifics to keep in mind:

The sharper the cheese, the drier it is to begin with. For example considering cheddar cheese, mild cheddar is the softest, then medium, sharp cheddar is getting drier,and extra sharp is drier yet. Ever notice the difference between slicing medium cheddar and extra sharp cheddar? The sharper cheeses tend to more easily crumble or break apart as you slice it, whereas the milder cheeses are softer and more pliable. Mozzarella is a very soft cheese with a very flexible texture and Parmesan is an example of a very hard cheese not suitable for slicing at all. What does this have to do with freezing the cheese?

Freezing cheese dries it out, so if you want the cheese in question to be sliced eventually, the stellar idea would be to slice it BEFORE freezing, wrap securely in waxed paper or butcher paper (More on "why wrap it in paper" at the end of this article), and drop it in a plastic bag. When you remove it from the freezer, leave adequate time for it to thaw completely in the refrigerator before trying to pull the slices apart as it may be a little on the brittle side. Think ahead about how much sliced cheese you really want in your deli drawer at one time because if you freeze an entire two pounds of sliced Swiss in a snugly wrapped package, guess what: You will not be able to separate it while it is still frozen. Wrap smaller portions in paper, then place those individual portions into a larger plastic bag and seal for freezing.

You can also pre-shred cheese and freeze it in a plastic bag or airtight container. This is a great "plan ahead" solution if you use shredded cheese for cooking, as you can remove only the portion that you need for a specific recipe and leave the rest right there in the freezer! I have even used shredded cheese straight from the freezer to make cheese sauces or fondue, with excellent results.

Harder cheeses such as Parmesan or Romano lose practically none of their original quality due to freezing. Very soft cheeses such as Ricotta and Feta freeze nicely, but you must remove their liquid first. I like to crumble Feta and keep it ready in the front of the freezer for salad toppings, casseroles, or tossing with pasta.

Lastly, back to wrapping portions of cheese in paper before bagging together in plastic for the freezer:
 In recent years, we have made great efforts to reduce the amount of plastic we depend on for household use. While certain plastic items are difficult to avoid, some plastic use can be reduced by choosing an alternative. This is where waxed paper or butcher paper comes in handy when packaging cheeses. You can portion your whole, sliced, or shredded cheese in manageable sizes, wrap those smaller portions in paper, and use just one plastic bag to hold several of them together in the freezer. An added benefit is that because the cheese is all wrapped inside the plastic bag, the bag is perfectly clean when it becomes empty and can easily be re-used saving both money and the environment. The paper wrapping can also be re-used on the next round of cheese headed for the freezer.

So go ahead and stock up when the local market has a fabulous sale on cheese! It is easier to store than you may have thought!

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