Sometimes it can be quite tricky to determine whether or not a cheese has gone bad, primarily because there is just such a wide variety of cheese. But there are a few pointers that will help, and if you keep them in mind then you might save yourself the trouble of throwing away a good piece of cheese!
Take a sniff
Bad smells are there for a reason: they make us aware that something is not right! And while there are some odors that are not always pleasant even when fresh (e.g. fish), when it is a smell that you just can’t stand, then better to chuck it away. The small technique works especially well for dairy. Since the type of smell depends on the type of cheese, try to smell the cheese when it is fresh so that you know what it’s supposed to smell like.
Look at it carefully
Much like smell, the way something looks is also a great indicator of whether it is still good or not. We can usually instinctively see when something has gone off. If the cheese has a darkened or faded color, then it might be off. The same goes for texture: if the texture of the cheese has changed quite a lot, then it might be time to bin it. Finally, molds are great indicators for how fresh or stale a cheese is. But bear in mind that some cheeses are purposefully inoculated with mold, and in these cases, molds might not be the best indicators.
Take a bite
After you have done the smell and appearance tests, then you can taste a piece of the cheese. Here it is important not to take a huge bite; you just want to taste a small sample of the cheese. Moreover, it is obviously best not to swallow the piece if you suspect something is off. If you find that the cheese has a sour or unpleasant taste, then throw it away.
Educate yourself a bit
Some cheeses, especially hard cheeses, have a much longer shelf life than others. But as with all other products, cheeses have a limited lifetime. Thus, probably one of the best ways to know when to let go of that favorite piece of cheese is to check the ‘best before’ date on the packaging. Try not to let the cheese go beyond this date. Although it might still be fine, it’s best not take the risk, especially when the other tests (appearance, smell and taste) say otherwise.
Get the proper storage
Storing cheese in a loosely wrapped ball of plastic wrap is not actually a good way of doing it. Cheese has a carefully balanced moisture content, which is why you need to replicate its original storage conditions. Cheese paper is the best way to wrap cheese in. This will essentially enable the cheese to still “breathe” while still preventing it from drying out too quickly. If you don't have it, wax paper or aluminium foil could also work.
Replace the Paper Every Time You Unwrap
Some cheeses actually sweat more than others. For such cheeses, it is a good idea to replace the wrapping material (whether cheese, wax, or parchment paper) whenever you unwrap it to use it. Although you might get away with some re-using of the old material, it won't enable the same breathable seal. Thus, if you can, it is best to use a fresh wrapping each time.
Keep It in the Vegetable Drawer
The best temperature range in which to store cheese is between 35 and 45 ° Fahrenheit. If cheese gets too cold, i.e., when it gets frozen, then the texture will degrade and you will be left with a substandard product. Thus, the best place to store your cheese is either in the vegetable drawer or on a bottom shelf of your fridge. Here, the temperature is a bit more consistent and will not be too cold.
Replace the Brine if It Starts to Smell
It is usually not necessary to replace the packing solution of your cheese. However, if you suspect that the solution has become contaminated or that it looks or smells off, then it is best to replace it. Just replace it with a salty solution of 1 tablespoon salt dissolved in a few cups of water. You can also prevent such contamination by only using clean utensils when handling the cheese. And don’t double dip!
Only Buy a Little at a Time
Bulk deals are great: they can help you save quite a lot of money. However, more often than not we are not able to use all of the product before the expiry date. Thus, instead of buying large quantities of cheese, try and buy smaller quantities. That way, the cheese only needs to be stored for a few days before it is finished. This not only means a reduced risk of contamination, but also that you will have the freshest cheese possible.
Use Oil to Prevent Molds
If you decide not to use any packaging, such as cheese wrapping or wax paper, then you can rub some olive, canola or other vegetable oil on the open surfaces of the cheese. Store this coated piece of cheese in an airtight container in your fridge. The advantage of this method is that any mold will grow on the oil surface, and not on the cheese itself. Thus, you can easily wipe this layer away and rinse the cheese under some water.