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Food Storage Tips: A cheesy experiment

Our family likes cheese. We eat cheese on sandwiches and burritos for lunch, and on about half of our dinners. We also try to store what we eat and eat what you store, but that’s hard to do with cheese. There’s cheese powder (which is what is in boxes of macaroni and cheese), and there’s Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, and Red Feather Processed Cheese, but those are just not the real thing. If we ever really had to live on our food storage, we would miss having cheese.

So when I read an idea on a message board a few years back about storing cheese in a root cellar, it piqued my interest. The details weren’t entirely clear, but it involved placing the cheese in an air-tight plastic bag and placing the bag inside vinegar, which didn’t make sense to me. I was reluctant to experiment here, because I didn’t want to kill off our family just yet.

Then I read a Backwoods Home Magazine article by Jackie Clay, their food storage/self reliant living/homesteading expert. She talked about her experiments with canning cheese. She said that cheese is a high acid food, so it’s pretty safe to play around with. If it goes bad, you can tell because of the mold or because it dries out. That fact gave me courage to proceed in further cheese storage experimentation.

In January of this year I bought two 5 lb. blocks of Tillamook cheese, in the air-tight plastic packaging. I decided to try just placing them on my basement shelves without any special preparation. I let them sit there.

In May, we opened one of them. It looked the same as it had when we had stored it. It tasted even better. It had gotten sharper in storage. Yum! We love sharp cheese.

We opened the other block of cheese in August. That experiment didn’t work out quite as well. Because of the heat, some of the oil had separated out of the cheese, and that oil was starting to get rancid and make the edge of the cheese slightly moldy. I poured off that oil and cut off the mold, and patted the cheese dry with paper towels. Then we tried it. It was sharper than the first experimental block of cheese. The texture was more crumbly, kind of like previously frozen cheese. But it still was delicious, and it hasn’t killed any of us yet.

Historically, it makes sense that cheese can be stored without refrigeration. Cheese has been around for thousands of years, and refrigeration has been around for only about 100 years. Cheese is basically the old-fashioned method of storing milk.

Based on the results of this experiment, it seems that cheese will store in a cool basement, root cellar, or cold storage room for around 6 months. The cheese will grow sharper with age. If it gets too warm, the oil will separate out of the cheese, and if the oil is left alone long enough, it will go rancid and cause the cheese to get moldy. Cheese goes bad if it gets too moldy or if it dries out.

We have decided to buy about a 6-8 month supply of block cheese in the fall, and use it up by spring before the weather gets warm.

Cautions:

Try this idea at your own risk. This idea has not been endorsed by any food safety expert.
Cheese is expensive. If money is tight, I would recommend getting the rest of your food storage in before buying cheese.

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