It's happened again. You've spent $50 at your local cheese counter, and now you've got more cheese than a human being can possibly consume in a week. How are you going to store all this cheese? Will it go bad if you don't eat it right away?
The good news is that many cheeses can last up to a few weeks in the refrigerator as long as they are stored properly. The goal is to let the cheese breathe while keeping it from drying out, so your best bet is to wrap it in a finely porous material, such as cheese paper, parchment paper, or breathable plastic wrap made especially for cheese. These wrappings control the amount of moisture around the surface of the cheese while still allowing oxygen to move in and out of the packaging. All of these factors make for a substantially longer lifespan in your fridge.
By itself, regular plastic wrap does not allow breathability and should not be used to wrap cheese. Cheese is a living, breathing thing, and without proper oxygen, it will suffocate. In a pinch you can use aluminum foil, but if you're a regular cheese shopper, it might be worth it to invest in some specially designed cheese paper.
That said, wrapping your cheese tightly in parchment paper and then wrapping it loosely in plastic wrap is a great way to store it. The parchment helps keep the cheese from drying out, while the loose coating of plastic holds in some moisture, allowing airflow in and around the cheese. You can also reuse the paper that your cheesemonger used.
Storage for longer than a week: It's good practice to change the wrapping occasionally to prevent errant mold and bacteria growth. Cheese likes to kept clean, just like everyone else.
Blue cheese is a little different, given that special molds are added to the curds to give them their signature spicy bite. These molds have their own special needs. If you're storing a blue variety, feel free to wrap it in aluminum foil; in fact, you might have noticed that some of the blue cheeses you buy come wrapped in foil already.
A Cheese Oasis
It's a good idea to keep cheese in your crisper (the drawer in your refrigerator made to store vegetables). These little drawers are actually somewhat climate-controlled to keep your veggies fresher for longer, and they perform the same function when it comes to keeping cheese.
Most hard, aged cheeses will last up to a month when kept properly, and softer semi-firm cheeses can last up for two to three weeks if conditions are ideal. If you notice a few spots of fuzzy mold growing on your cheese, don't panic. Remember that cheese is fermented with a series of molds and bacterias, so if you notice a little patch of extra mold here or there, it's perfectly safe to scrape it off. If the cheese has been completely overtaken by mold, well, it's probably best to toss it.
And, because someone always asks: Please, for the love of god, don't freeze your cheese, ok?
About the author: Stephanie Stiavetti is a writer and cookbook author in San Francisco. Stephanie's cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, celebrates America's favorite dish by recreating it with small production, specialty cheeses. Her food blog, The Culinary Life, is a repository for all things comfort food related, from savory dinners to transcendental desserts.