A couple of days ago I wrote an article How do you take care of your food when the grid goes down?. This article discussed preserving food after the grid goes down. In a reply to this article Hangtown Frank mentioned that he is storing shrink wrapped cheddar and jack cheeses in a cool area for up to thirteen months.
Because he has been a good source of information in the past I asked him to provide additional information on how he is doing it. The following is the reply I received from him.
The cheeses I’m storing
I get my cheese at Raley’s in Placerville in their cheese section. Generally what I get is their store-brand plastic shrink-wrapped 2 pound blocks of mild cheddar or Monterey Jack. I simply set these on the painted metal shelves of office storage supply cabinets that are located in my “whine” cellar*. The cabinets have doors that close but they aren’t really needed if your storage area is rodent proof (mine is).
When purchased, the mild cheeses are the least expensive because they have had very little aging. They continue to age while being stored and become sharper – that’s what I like – sharp cheese. I am now eating a block of cheese that has aged for 13 months in my whine cellar.
Minimal aging and, perhaps, minimal pressing before being formed into blocks results in cheese that sometimes off-gasses and/or bleeds-out some whey-like liquid. The gas is odorless and is not flammable. The off gassing pressurizes the wrap so that it “balloons-out”. The liquid has no significant odor and a pleasant slightly cheesy flavor.
When I open an aged package with liquid in it, I generally drain the liquid into the kitchen sink. I have saved it and used it in pancake batter. If it has liquid, the block of cheese will be slippery. I wipe it dry with a paper towel. That takes care of the slipperiness. I then put it into a plastic bag or a covered bowl for room temperature storage and cut or grate-off cheese as I need it. A two pound block lasts me about 2 weeks.
On rare occasion the shrink-wrap will leak a bit onto the shelf in the storage cabinet. Aside from being slightly messy this doesn’t seem to be a problem for me.
If the blocks are stacked more than 2 deep on the shelf they sometimes deform (flatten) over time. So far this hasn’t been a problem for me.
I’ve never had any mold form in the packages while they were in storage.
I had a potential concern about the possibility of botulism. I did an extensive web search on this topic and found only one case of possible botulism in cheese. That was more than 50 years ago and it was in a cheese sauce stored in an open container on a restaurant salad bar. The sauce contained many things aside from cheese. These changed the natural acidity and moisture balance of the cheese. Further, for hundreds of years, cheese has been preserved for long periods of time without refrigeration simply by wrapping it in was coated cheese cloth. So, I no longer worry about this topic. As best I can tell, the primary purpose for refrigerating is to slow its natural aging process.
* My “whine cellar” – why whine and not wine? Because I whine a lot about it not being big enough and had I planned it as a cool storage room I’d have designed it differently.
As it is now, it is simply a former bedroom with one window. The room is on the lower floor of the house and is always shaded from the sun. To keep it cool on hot days, I open the window at night and let the breeze blow in. I close it when I arise in the morning. The room is well enough insulated and local night time summer temperatures are low enough that this procedure maintains the room at temperature that never exceeds 70F on the hottest of summer days.
This room naturally has a low humidity. It would not function well as a “root cellar” for unprocessed foods that require a humid environment.
If I were designing it now as a storage room I’d have either (a) installed a temperature controlled exhaust fan to ventilate the room at night without my having to remember to open and close the window or, (b) built it with a 19th century thermal chimney into the room that automatically cools the room at night. I’d have also designed it with built in storage containers and shelves and more insulation in all the walls (not just the exterior walls) and ceiling.
I spent part of the morning doing a bit of research on this subject and found that the harder the cheese the better they store without refrigeration. This is why Parmesan cheese stores well.
Fromager Dan Utano says “Aged Gouda is a great example of a perfect traveling cheese. It’s hard so it doesn’t melt, it’s aged so it can last through the travel and the flavor is so rich you can just eat a little at a time and it will last you.”
There is a Raley’s near me, so I will go shopping and get some cheddar cheese and put in a controlled temperature storage and see what happens. If you choose to do this, it is at your own risk. Another solution to storing cheese is to find a source of commercially waxed cheeses that are designed for long term storage. These are available o the internet.