Does Cheese Need To Be Refrigerated? – Which Do & Which Don’t

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Have spare cheese at home but not enough space to store it in the refrigerator? 

If you have ever wondered if you can store cheese outside then we’re here to tell you that you can, but only under certain conditions!

There are lots of different cheeses out there, and they’re all made differently! Some last longer in cold temperatures while others can be stored on the counter.

Does cheese need to be refrigerated? Hard cheeses, like Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, and some processed cheese can survive at room temperatures for up to a few days but soft cheese like cream cheese and cottage cheese should be kept refrigerated at all times. 

Read below to learn more about different types of cheese, what makes them last longer, how to store them, and some helpful best practices! 

Cheese That Doesn’t Need To Be Refrigerated

All milk products are subject to spoilage and cheese is no different! But there are a few clever ways that humans have been able to extend the shelf life of milk.

Back when refrigeration wasn’t on anyone’s mind, we had been using alternate ways of storing food for preservation.

It is thought that cheese was partly invented to increase the shelf-life of milk and to promote the use of different milk products in our diets

Milk contains fats and sugars, which makes them a target for bacterial growth. On average milk can spoil within 3 hours at room temperature—this time is cut in half if you live in a hotter climate!

But thanks to generations of storing experience and experimentation, mankind came up with a way to not just preserve cheese but also to “age” it to develop flavor! 

As a general rule of thumb, hard cheese can survive a few days at room temperature due to its low moisture content. 

These types of cheese are very dense and can also be considered to be “dry”. However, since cheese making isn’t an exact science, the moisture content can vary with every block or wheel of cheese.

This means that while you can keep hard cheese wheels or blocks out in the open, you should always keep them refrigerated if you want to store them for longer. 

Remember, hard cheese is not invincible. It is subject to rot and molding just like any other milk product. It’s just that they can last longer in cold temperatures!

In some cases, even if the block grows mold, the superficial layer is cut out and reused as needed. But don’t try this at home. Molded cheese is handled only by experts who know what they are doing. 

Therefore, if you have hard cheese at home that has developed mold, then the safest option is to toss the block unless you have specific instructions from the manufacturer on what to do.

Here are some famous cheeses that can survive without refrigeration:

Parmigiano Reggiano 

This cheese is famous for its hard, grainy texture and delicious flavor. Parmigiano Reggiano is purposefully aged in a temperature-controlled environment for up to 12 months

This gives it an amazing flavor and also allows it to lose a lot of its natural moisture, thus increasing its overall shelf life.

Typically, this cheese is made under strict conditions and it does not contain any additives or preservatives which makes it an all-natural choice for cheese lovers. 

The cheese block is usually sold cold but once you bring it home, you can keep it at room temperature for up to 2-3 days.

If you live in a very hot climate then we recommend keeping the cheese out for no more than 1 day. If you live in a cooler climate, then you may be able to get away with storing the cheese for up to 3 days. 

However, it is always best to follow the storage instructions stamped on the packaging of the cheese. Manufacturers will print the best before date on every cheese block along with some information on how to store it.

Hard cheese should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place if it is to survive outside. If these conditions are not meant, then the cheese might start to spoil! 

Pecorino Romano

Pecorino Romano is another great Italian cheese that has a smooth surface but a hard texture.

It is much saltier than other types of cheese and is similarly aged to develop an earthy and grassy flavor. 

This cheese can also survive for up to 2-3 days at room temperature, provided that it is stored the right way.

If the cheese is subject to vast temperature differences and if it is cut or kept near moisture, then it is bound to go bad within 2 days. 

This is why you must follow the “dry-cool-dark” storage protocol when it comes to aged, hard cheese

Keep in mind, aged cheese is stored at just below room temperature so it is safe to say that it can easily withstand normal room temperature for a few days.

However, if you want the most out of the cheese then we highly recommend that you keep it refrigerated. 

Again, it is best to follow the manufacturer’s storage information than to experiment on your own.

This cheese should only be stored outside under special circumstances or emergencies—otherwise, storing it in the fridge is the best option!

Aged Cheeses 

Aged Gouda and cheddar can similarly survive outside for 2-3 days. But some varieties may not be suitable for more than one day. 

This depends on the moisture content of the cheese. For example, aged cheddar with a hard texture may be able to survive for longer than some varieties of gouda and vice versa.

Processed Cheese

This is where we enter into the “artificially preserved” and “pasteurized” categories of milk products. 

Mass-produced cheese products that are kept on shelves without refrigeration can last longer because they are kept sealed and/or are mixed with preservatives and are pasteurized

A perfect example of this is American cheese. This cheese is designed to withstand room temperatures so long as it is not opened.

Once the cheese is opened and exposed to air and moisture, it is best to keep it either frozen or refrigerated.

These products can be kept at room temperature for up to a year (unless specified) but once open, they must be consumed within the written duration. 

Remember, at most the storage time for each cheese at room temperature should not be more than 3 days.

Cheese That Needs To Be Refrigerated

On the other side of the spectrum, some types of cheese always require refrigeration.

These are called “soft cheese” and include the following:

Cream Cheese

Cream cheese products already contain stabilizers and preservatives, especially in the case of industrial, mass-produced products. 

These types of cheese are predominately kept on shelves without refrigeration but as soon as they are opened, they must be kept in the fridge at 40°F. Once open, cream cheese can go bad within 2-3 hours!

This is because it has a lot more moisture than any other cheese and is more susceptible to mold and bacterial growth. 

You should avoid freezing cream cheese as it may ruin its texture. When in doubt, always check the back of the packaging for more storage information!

Goat Cheese

Goat cheese is available in several varieties but will always be found in the refrigerated aisle in supermarkets.

This is another example of a soft cheese that is sold in hard plastic packaging. This type of cheese requires 24/7 refrigeration and should ideally be stored at 40°F

Goat cheese is extremely susceptible to bacterial growth which is why it must not be kept outside for more than 1-2 hours, depending on weather conditions. 

In some cases, it may also be applicable to freeze this cheese but please check the back of the package for appropriate storage conditions.

Cottage Cheese

Technically, cottage cheese is considered to be semi-solid. It is neither too soft nor too hard. It is considered to be in the “just right” category when it comes to its texture.

This cheese can be found in abundance in supermarkets and is available in several varieties. Cottage cheese should ideally be kept refrigerated at all times

Cottage cheese may be able to survive a few hours on the counter but this is highly dependent on where you live and the type of cheese that you have purchased. 

Just check the back of the packaging and use the cheese within the best before the date for the best experience. 

Shredded Cheese

Shredded cheese is a generic name that is given to any cheese that has been grated for use in pizzas, sandwiches, and more. 

For example, you can find several varieties of shredded mozzarella, parmesan, cheddar, and so on.

Shredded cheese is most notably very convenient, but being shredded also makes the cheese more susceptible to spoiling, even more than regular cheese!

The reason for this is that shredded cheese pieces are more prone to oxidation than solid or hard cheese. The smaller pieces can go bad quickly and if there are enough compromised pieces, then the entire pack is compromised. 

This is why shredded cheese is kept both frozen or refrigerated! To store any generic grated cheese just store the pack in the freezer or in the fridge at 40°F until the expiry or best before date.

Here’s a quick glance at the types of cheese and their storage duration:

QualityHard Or Processed CheeseSoft Cheese
TypesParmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Aged gouda, aged cheddar, Processed Cheese. 40°F
Cream cheese, Goat cheese, Cottage cheese,  Pizza Cheese, Shredded cheese.
Storage Duration (Room Temperature)2-3 days for hard cheese.1-2 Hours for most soft cheese.
Storage Temperature (Room)68–72°FKeep Refrigerated
Storage Temperature (Fridge)40°F40°F
Storage Temperature (Freezer)0°F0°F

Tips For Storing Different Types Of Cheese

  • Always store soft cheese at the back of the refrigerator to prevent any temperature differences. Most people don’t realize how big of an effect subtle temperature discrepancies have on soft cheeses. 
  • Never freeze soft cheese as it may lose its moisture and become crumbly and less tasty.
  • Store all types of cheese in a food-safe and air-tight container to prevent spoilage. You can also wrap food-grade plastic to slow down oxidation. This is especially important for cheese that has been cut. 
  • Always inspect cheese before use. Some people think it is okay to remove mold and eat hard cheese but this should only be done in the presence of a cheese expert. 

Signs Of Spoiling

In the case of hard cheese, always check for molding, fuzzy growth, and discoloration. These signs are a dead giveaway for cheese that has gone bad. 

On the other hand, there are other subtle signs like oiling. This happens when hard cheese has been left out for too long.

The cheese will develop a sheen that would either mean that the cheese has gone bad or that it needs refrigeration. 

If the cheese develops a foul odor or flavor, then it is best to just toss the entire block. Do not attempt to remove mold as the bacteria may have already compromised the entire block, not just the surface!

You should look for the same signs of spoilage in soft cheese too. The main difference is that soft cheese must be kept refrigerated at all times. 

Related Questions

Now that you know all about the types of cheese that do and don’t require refrigeration, here are some great related questions!

Can hard cheese be cut in smaller portions for storage?

Hard cheese is available in either large blocks or wheels.

If you want to store the cheese in the fridge then it may be acceptable to cut it in smaller portions provided that you keep each portion in a separate airtight container (we’d recommend these ones if you’re in need of a container).

Hard cheese can either be refrigerated or kept in the freezer. Only thaw the portion that you wish to consume and refrigerate any leftovers within 2 hours of cutting and thawing them

What type of cheese can’t be frozen?

In most cases, cottage, cream, and ricotta cheese should not be frozen. This is due to their moisture content.

Freezing them may dry them out and may also cause a loss in flavor and texture. The best way to store them for the short term is to keep them in the fridge at 40°F

Should mozzarella and fresh cheese be served cold or at room temperature?

All types of cheese are best enjoyed at around room temperature. Frozen or refrigerated cheese is acceptable when it comes to cooking, like using frozen, shredded mozzarella as a topping on pizzas. 

You should ideally thaw frozen cheese in the fridge overnight or for at least 4-8 hours before serving it

If you’re looking for a fun way to use all your favorite types of cheese, here’s a great video on how to make a charcuterie and cheese board from the folks over at Babish Culinary Universe!

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