A bowl of spaghetti carbonara with loads of parmesan cheese for dinner sounds indulging, right? But, your parmesan cheese has been in the fridge for a few weeks.
Do you start to wonder if it is still OK to sprinkle on top of your pasta? Does parmesan cheese go bad? What are those white spots on the surface of parmesan cheese?
If you would like to find out more interesting facts and useful information about parmesan cheese; how to store it, how long it lasts, and most importantly how to tell if it’s bad, let’s quickly go through this article!
What is Parmesan Cheese?
Parmesan cheese is an English translation of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italian. It is a dry, hard cheese with a distinctive flavor and granular texture. This Italian specialty is produced from cow’s milk with an aging period between 12 – 36 months.
Thanks to its high quality and unique profile, parmesan cheese is crowned as the “king of cheeses” and considered as one of Italy’s best culinary legacy.
Is it similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano?
Traditionally this cheese is exclusively produced with specific methods and requirements in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna, and Mantua.
With the recognition of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO or DOP in Italian) from the European Union, only cheeses produced in those aforementioned areas can be legally marked and labeled as Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Nowadays, parmesan cheese is also widely produced outside of Italy, including in the US and other countries. This cheese is typically aged for 10 months minimum and has a milder taste.
If you want to taste the real deal, consider buying the authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano with PDO seal (or DOP in Italian). But, if you’re on a budget, the frequently dubbed “imitation” parmesan cheese can still be a good alternative.
How to Store Parmesan Cheese
Despite its natural long shelf-life, storage conditions still play a role in determining the shelf-life of parmesan cheese. Either a wedge of parmesan cheese or the grated one should be stored in the fridge with a temperature between 4 – 8°C (39 – 46 °F).
For a parmesan cheese wedge, the wrapping material is essential to keep the cheese to breathe, but also prevent it from drying out. Cheese paper, parchment paper, or breathable plastic wrap will do the job. Avoid using regular plastic wrap since it is not breathable.
For double protection, wrap the cheese in a cheese (parchment) paper and cover with plastic wrap. Keep the cheese separated from other foods to prevent it from absorbing their odors.
If you store the cheese for more than a week, try to replace the wrapping occasionally to make sure it stays clean to avoid bacterial growth or cross-contamination.
For grated parmesan cheese, store it in its original container. Use clean utensils to take the product to avoid cross-contamination. Grated or shredded parmesan cheese should not be left out of the fridge for more than 2 hours.
Does Parmesan Cheese Expire?
Parmesan cheese belongs to the hard cheeses category with a low moisture content which is unfavorable to microbial growth. Therefore, naturally, this type of cheese has a much longer shelf life than semi-hard cheese and soft cheese. The shelf life may slightly vary depending on the age of the cheese.
Generally, parmesan cheese is sold in two forms; in a wedge (or block) and grated or shredded. Check the “use by date” or “best before” on the label. Thanks to its natural long shelf life, it is still possibly safe to eat cheese that passes those dates.
How Long Does It Last?
An unopened wedge of parmesan cheese (pre-packed or vacuum-packed) can last until a year, while the opened pack is good to go for another 4 -6 weeks after opening when stored properly in the fridge. Don’t open the package before you need to use it. An unopened package may last for several months with proper storage.
Grated cheese tends to have a shorter shelf-life of a few weeks to a month since it deteriorates faster (check the label). It typically lasts for 3 – 7 days after opening. Try to finish grated cheese as soon as possible once it’s opened.
How to Tell if Parmesan Cheese is Already Bad
The best way is always to check the look, smell, and taste. A good parmesan cheese comes in a yellow pale color. If you spot dark yellow or gray color on the cheese, it is no longer suitable for consumption.
If you see mold on the surface parmesan cheese wedge (or other hard cheeses), you can simply remove at least 1 inch (2,5 cm) around and below the moldy part. The remaining part is still good to eat.
Molds spread less easily in hard cheeses. Cut the cheese with the wrapping material still intact and ensure the knife does not touch the mold. This is important to prevent contamination of other parts of the cheese.
The rule with mold doesn’t apply for grated cheese. Molds can contaminate more than what you can see on grated cheese. If molds appear on grated cheese, or you smell an unpleasant smell, and off-flavor, don’t risk your health and quickly discard the remaining cheese.
Although it is not recommended, yes parmesan cheese can be frozen. However, the flavor and texture may decrease. To freeze parmesan cheese, make sure to use an airtight container that will protect the cheese from frost.
Traditional Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano is prepared with unpasteurized (raw) milk. However, the generic parmesan made outside of Italy is generally produced from pasteurized milk. To make sure, check the ingredients lists on the label or ask the store or cheesemonger.
Hard cheeses including parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano are considered safe for pregnant women although it is made of unpasteurized milk. The long maturation process is able to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. However, if you are doubtful, please consult with your gynecologist.
An unopened wedge or block of parmesan cheese may still be safe for consumption for several weeks. Meanwhile, grated cheese may still be edible for several days. But, make sure to check the look, smell, and taste beforehand.
Parmesan is a long-lasting type of cheese so it should still be okay for use after a few weeks past the expiration date. However, always check to make sure there is no sign of spoilage such as change in color and texture or have an unpleasant odor or bad taste.
The white spots that are formed on parmesan cheese are crystallized amino acids as a result of the maturation process. In other words, these white spots are signs of cheese aging. The more aged the cheese, the more crystals are formed.
Parmesan cheese is rich in flavor and a great company to your pasta, salad, and many other dishes. Thanks to its long aging period and low moisture content, parmesan cheese has a long shelf life. However, it can go bad if not stored properly.
Parmesan cheese should always be kept inside a refrigerator. Whether you buy an authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano or “imitation” parmesan, don’t waste your money by storing your parmesan cheese improperly.
*Photo by krasyuk/depositphotos