Unless you often use Parmesan cheese, it can take few months to use up a small block. Because of that, you may consider freezing it to extend its shelf life. Here is a look at how you can freeze Parmesan cheese and what to expect when you do.
Can You Freeze Parmesan Cheese?
Although it is safe to do so, it is not typically recommended to freeze cheese. When cheese is placed in the freezer, the moisture within it freezes, forming tiny ice crystals. Because water expands when it freezes, these crystals create tiny holes throughout the cheese. While too small to be seen by the naked eye, these holes remain even once the cheese is thawed, permanently altering its structural integrity. The previously smooth, creamy texture of the cheese becomes noticeably crumblier.
Image used under Creative Commons from Alexandria Perone
Harder cheeses like Parmesan typically withstand the freezing process better than softer cheeses. The taste and color of the cheese should not be affected by freezing. While it will still make the cheese more crumbly, this textural change may not be a problem, depending on the intended use for the Parmesan.
Does It Make Sense to Freeze Parmesan Cheese?
Parmesan has a shelf life ranging from several months up to a year when kept wrapped loosely in wax paper in the refrigerator, depending on the specific variation and age of the cheese. As Parmesan is an aged cheese, it is safe to consume as long as there is not mold on it. Placing Parmesan cheese in the freezer will extend the shelf life by several months.
When deciding whether or not it makes sense to freeze Parmesan cheese, first consider how frequently you use it in your cooking and the size of your block. If you use it semi-regularly and have a small block that you intend on using within the next few months, then it is probably best to keep it in the fridge and enjoy it fresh. However, it you only use Parmesan sporadically or have purchased a large block that you know will last more than a few months, it may be best to freeze at least a portion of it.
You will also want to consider how you intend to use the Parmesan cheese when deciding if it makes sense to freeze your block. The textural change that accompanies freezing should not be problematic in melted applications that use small amounts of Parmesan, such as a creamy sauce or a pasta filling. However, it is not ideal to freeze the cheese if you plan on using it as an unmelted topping, such as in a Caesar salad.
How Should I Freeze Parmesan Cheese?
Parmesan cheese can be frozen as a block or shredded. Because you do not want to thaw and refreeze the same block of cheese, you may wish to cut the block into smaller portions before freezing. If you are shredding the cheese, select the finest grate possible, as this will withstand the freezing process best. No matter which way you choose, you will want to put the Parmesan in an airtight container, such as a plastic or glass dish with a lid or a plastic zip bag.
How Should I Thaw Parmesan Cheese?
To thaw Parmesan cheese, simply move it over to the fridge and wait. You will want to do this at least 24 hours ahead of when you plan to use it to ensure that it has plenty of time to thaw thoroughly. Naturally, larger blocks will require longer to thaw than smaller chunks or cheese that has already been shredded.
If you chose to shred the cheese before freezing and plan to melt it, you can also add the Parmesan to your dish or sauce while it is still frozen. The process of cooking your meal will quickly thaw the cheese and melt it.