How to Determine if Cheese Is Safe

By Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN
tray of cheese

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Cheese. It's creamy. It's decadent. And sometimes it's, well, stinky. But when it comes to your favorite fromage, an overpowering scent isn't always a bad thing. In fact, many cheeses are decidedly strong smelling, yet perfectly fine to eat.

Here's how to tell if your cheese is safe or if it should be put out to pasture:

  1. Sniff it out: "When you purchase a new cheese, especially if it's a stinky one, talk to your cheese monger and make sure the way it smells is normal," says Katie Cavuto, MS, RD. "Then, you can use that smell as a baseline to evaluate the freshness of your cheese going forward."
  2. Know what's normal: Mold on cheese isn't necessarily a problem. In fact, mold is intentionally added to many cheeses as part of the ripening process. For instance, Penicillium roqueforti gives way to the tasty blue veins in Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Stilton while Penicillium camemberti is used to ripen creamy Brie and Camembert.
  3. Trim it: While mold that's added to cheese during ripening isn't a concern, mold that grows on the exterior can be a sign that it's not 100-percent safe to eat.  However, in hard cheeses, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to toss it, as it's unlikely to have permeated the entire cheese. "If you see mold on the outside of hard cheese like Parmesan or Cheddar, cut away at least one inch of the cheese around and below the mold to salvage the cheese," says Michelle Dudash, RDN. Soft cheeses like ricotta, cream cheese, goat cheese or shredded cheese are a different story. Mold can penetrate these soft cheeses quickly, so it's best to throw them out if you spot any mold whatsoever.
  4. Store it safely: Properly choosing and storing cheese can help keep it fresh and free from spoilage. When selecting cheese, make sure its texture is smooth, it has no cracks or mold and that it's not hardened or yellowing. At home, refrigerate it promptly at temperatures between 34°F and 38°F. Before you do, make sure the cheese is wrapped tightly in plastic wrap to protect it from mold spores that may live in your refrigerator.
  5. Know when to say when: Shelf lives vary from cheese to cheese. Once opened, hard cheeses like cheddar and Swiss will stay fresh for up to six months in your fridge, while softer varieties like ricotta, Brie and Bel Paese will hold up for about a week.

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