Perhaps you’ve had an extremely bountiful milking season and you have nothing to do with the excess milk as you clean out your freezer (probably in preparation for hunting season). What do you do? And how do you turn it into something that won’t go to waste?
There’s a reason that so many cool weather holidays are full of cheese and cheese-flavored dishes and that’s because they were trying to use up all of that milk those dairy animals were producing. The problem is, what do you do with the cheese once you have it? How do you guarantee that the cheese will stay good longer than the milk will?
Today, we’ll investigate the best way to preserve cheese for as long as it can be both with modern and traditional methods. Let’s get started.
This one is by far the easiest method for preserving your cheese. Obviously, you just need to seal it into a zippered bag or another airproofed container and there you have it; the cheese is ready for the freezer.
The biggest problem is if you lose your power during a storm in the summer and suddenly, oh no. Your cheese is lost forever. While we certainly recommend buying the largest freezer you possibly can and also keeping it cleaned out and in tip-top shape, a freezer is only as good as your connection to electricity or a very good ice salesman. And in a pinch, both of those things may be out of reach for too long for your cheese to make it.
Vacuum sealing is another wonderful way to preserve your cheese, however, it does require electricity (much like the method above). Any hard cheese can be vacuum sealed and almost all of them can be left on countertops or shelves for an extended period of time so long as the seal is not broken.
Molding cheese should be thrown away if the mold is not correct for the type of cheese. If it is a soft cheese, we recommend skipping this step. Soft cheeses are much more picky about their sealing and should not be tempted unless you have a background in cheese preservation already.
Oil Baths, Cheese Wax, and Clothing Methods
If preserving a large block or wheel of cheese, an oil bath might be an option. Use a neutral, shelf-stable oil (usually linseed but others are viable options depending on what you have the ability to get your hands on; we don’t recommend olive or any vegetable-based oils), dip your cheese, and allow it to dry. Dip again and again, always allowing the cheese to dry as much as it will and removing it from any puddles it sits in. This oil barrier will lock in flavor and keep the outside clean and safe.
You may also decide to do something similar with cheese wax or with cheesecloths. While both of these are viable options, especially when considered and worked with someone who has done this before, you must be very careful to use only the hardest cheeses available. Pecorino, very hard cheddars, and so forth, are really the only ones that make sense to preserve in this manner. Anything softer, even a gouda or a Swiss, will often rot very quickly on the shelf due to the humidity of the room.
If you do desire to preserve in this manner, try to find someone locally who can help you understand the needs specific to your region and how best to equip yourself to deal with them. There is a reason that so many favorite cheeses are created in areas where the temperature and the humidity rarely change throughout the year and that is because it allows these artisans an easy way to maintain a safe environment for cheesemaking and preserving.
Dry storage is often simply slapping a wheel of cheese on a shelf and allowing it to sit there.
This is always a possibility. You’re going to lose weight on that wheel from shrinkage due to a loss of water weight over time. Essentially drying your cheese as much as you can is often used when curing your cheese, but some can go a little longer and create a better barrier to the outside world and all its bacteria.
You may consider putting your cheese in a dark, cool area of the house where rodents and insects won’t be able to get to it. In fact, you may also consider waxing it or wrapping it before doing this simply to help preserve it even more.
Other Methods: Salt and Salting Your Cheese Blocks
Salt buckets of cheese were used in much the same way that salt pork or salt beef buckets were used. Much like other methods, salt helps draw the wet out of various things that are being preserved; the cheese in this case. To mold, something must have enough moisture to grow those mold spores in the first place. Salt prevents this by sucking the moisture away and covering the surface of the cheese with sodium, which does not mold under any circumstances that I’m aware of.
The biggest problem with salting your cheese is that you often end up with a very salty block of cheese and you can’t really wash the block off without losing some of the flavor naturally there. How would one fix it if they did decide to preserve their cheese in this manner? A quick oil bath often helps remove some of that outer layer of salt, but most people will simply brush their cheese off and expect it to be a bit sharper and saltier after a salt bath.
Ultimately, the decision is up to you. There are so many ways to preserve cheese because it is such a go-to way to preserve excess milk, especially for homesteaders. What is your favorite method to preserve your cheese and which methods would you never use? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you. And remember, happy homesteading!
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