Some Cheeses Weather Freezer Extremes While Others Suffer

The deep cold preserves cheese safety, but often at the expense of quality

Shredded cheese
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The real question isn't can you freeze cheese but should you? While you can safely freeze any cheese, some varieties suffer a notable loss of quality when you do. To play it safe, the default position on freezing cheese seems to be: don't do it. However, as with any rule, you can find exceptions to this one.

The Frosty Effect on Cheese

Ice crystals form in cheese during storage in the freezer, affecting both taste and texture.

Water expands when it freezes and contracts as it thaws. This action breaks down the molecular structure of the cheese, causing them to become crumbly when thawed. Soft cheeses, in particular, emerge from the freezer exuding liquid separated from the tough and somewhat granular remaining paste.

The Freezer No’s of Cheese

The texture of fresh cheeses such as queso fresco and paneer and soft cheese such as brie suffers the most from time in the freezer. Likewise, hand-crafted, artisanal cheeses with their delicately balanced flavors come out of the freezer noticeably worse for the wear. 

Don’t store cheeses with innately fine pockets or holes in the freezer either. Those tiny air pockets encourage the damage caused by the freeze-and-thaw cycle even more.

The Freezer Go’s of Cheese

Industrially produced cheese stands up to freezing with the least loss of quality. Big blocks of store brand cheddar, for example, are uniformly smooth and suffer less textural damage when frozen than more irregular types of cheese.

Well-aged, hard grating cheeses such as pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) usually come out of the freezer in usable condition. But these types of cheeses can develop a slightly metallic "burnt" flavor during freezer storage. Because they keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator tightly wrapped (without loss of flavor), it makes more sense to store them there.

Packaged shredded cheeses such as mozzarella designed for melting on pizza and slices destined for a grilled cheese make good candidates for freezer storage, allowing you to keep them conveniently on hand.

The Storage and Use of Frozen Cheese

Cheese continually maintained at 0 F lasts indefinitely from a safety perspective, but the quality progressively deteriorates over time. For best results, use frozen cheese within three months. Store it in the unopened original packaging, or in zip-top freezer bags with the air pressed out. Packaged shredded cheese usually contains cornstarch to keep it from clumping; separate slices of cheese with sheets of freezer paper before you put it in a bag or airtight container.

Thaw cheese in the refrigerator or cook it from the frozen state on pizzas, in casseroles, or in a grilled cheese sandwich. Use thawed cheese within two days to three days of pulling it from the freezer.

Previously frozen cheese performs best when you grate, crumble, or melt it. Don’t use thawed cheese on dishes such as a caprese salad or deli sandwich, which rely on the creamy texture of fresh cheese.