Ask UConn Extension: All About Cheese

cheese in a refrigeratorCan cheese be frozen?

Some cheese can be stored in the freezer but it’s not recommended because it can change the texture. Harder cheeses like Parmesan freeze better than other types. Therefore, it is best to freeze harder cheeses that you intend to use for cooking rather than eating alone. It is best to freeze cheese in its original, unopened package. If it is already opened, cut it into small pieces and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freezer paper. Thaw the wrapped cheese in refrigerator and use soon afterward.

Can I eat cheese if I’m lactose intolerant?

Yes, but it depends on the cheese. Harder cheeses like Parmesan and cheddar can contain little to no lactose since most of the whey (which contains lactose) is drained during production. Cheeses that are aged (e.g., 6 months or more) are safer since residual lactose is consumed by the cultures. It is best to avoid some softer cheeses like Ricotta and Mozzarella that are higher in moisture and are not aged.

Can I eat the rind of cheese?

It is always a good idea to ask your cheese seller first but many rinds are edible. Some cheeses are coated in wax or sealed with other materials and those should be removed or cut around. Other than that, it is really a matter of personal preference since the flavor of some rinds can be strong and at times can overwhelm the flavor of the cheese itself.

What is the liquid on the outside of my cheese and what should I do?

This is not uncommon and is usually just whey (like you find in yogurt) that you can just wipe off.

What should I do if my cheese gets moldy?

Cheese can develop mold after it is exposed to air. Thankfully, most molds are harmless and can be cut away from larger pieces.  To do so, cut away about a half inch on all sides of the visible mold growth avoiding contact with the mold so you don’t spread it. If it still tastes a bit musty or moldy, continue to cut away. The same does not apply to soft cheese like cream cheese, ricotta, etc. since the mold can spread more easily in these products and will be difficult to avoid. Similarly, it is best to discard sliced or shredded cheese that has developed mold.

How should I store and handle cheese?

It is best to store all cheeses in their original unopened package in the refrigerator at <40°F. Be sure to wash your hands and any utensils before handling and try to avoid touching cheese you plan to put back in the refrigerator. It is best to keep cheeses in their original package, especially sliced or shredded cheese. Don’t put your hand directly into the bag either- pour shreds out or use a clean utensil to remove slices or shreds. Tightly wrap or seal the cheese (or the original packaging) before putting it back in the refrigerator. You can also place the wrapped cheese in an airtight container if you have one. You can take cheese out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature before you plan on eating it but don’t leave it out for too long as the texture will change and fats may seep out as oil on the outside. Place any leftover cheese back in the refrigerator as soon as you’re done.

How long can I store cheese and can I eat it after the listed date on the package?

Code dates are not tied to the safety of the product but rather the quality. The length of storage depends on the type of cheese and the storage and handling conditions. Harder, aged cheeses like cheddar and parmesan will store well in the refrigerator for a few months but will eventually develop mold once opened.  Softer cheeses have higher moisture content and may spoil faster. They should be eaten by the date listed on the package. Be sure to check all cheese for mold, slimy textures, and off-odors before eating.  Shredded and sliced cheese should be used quickly after opening since molds can develop relatively fast.

What is the white stuff on the outside of my cheese and what should I do?

Assuming the cheese is unopened it is not likely to be mold but rather calcium lactate crystals. These are common and not harmful. Over time calcium and lactate can naturally migrate to the surface of cheese and crystalize to the point that they are visible to the naked eye.

Why are there crunchy things in some cheeses?

Some aged cheeses naturally develop “cheese crystals”. Most of the time they are either calcium lactate or crystals of the amino acid tyrosine. They are safe to eat and often desirable since they are usually a sign that the cheese has been aged for some time and has developed flavor.

UConn Creamery Cheese Wins Awards

UConn Creamery cheese with awards from 2019For the sixth year in a row, the UConn Animal Science Creamery has taken home awards from the annual American Cheese Society Judging and Competition. Our Chipotle Queso Blanco and our Green Chile Queso Blanco were recognized for excellence amongst 1742 products from over 250 entering companies. The Chipotle and Green Chile cheeses were awarded second and third place in their category, respectively. Congratulations!

Say Cheese

cheese productionSmall-scale dairy operations in Connecticut and throughout the country offer cheese, ice cream, and other dairy products direct to consumers and through wholesale distribution. The popularity of local food has increased interest in these operations, and led to a greater need for food safety education and training.

Dennis D’Amico is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Animal Science who focuses on food technology, quality, and safety. His applied research is integrated with his Extension work. D’Amico works closely with the dairy industry to develop risk reduction interventions and technical outreach programs. When he first started at UConn he worked directly with several Connecticut producers, learn- ing the unique issues they face.

D’Amico takes small-scale producers’ challenges back to his laboratory to test and develop interventions to see if they will actually work. He defines an actionable intervention as something a producer can implement without significant expense. A team of undergraduate and graduate students work in his laboratory researching each aspect of a problem.

“My work with Extension is rewarding, there’s nothing better than hearing about a problem, and then making someone’s day by helping them solve their problem. Having that immediate impact is what makes me smile,” D’Amico says. “Extension provides diversity to my day, I meet with different people with various needs and it makes me think about dairy food science and safety from new angles.”

In-person trainings are limited to time and geography in some cases. D’Amico and his colleagues are using technology to address the limitations. An online food safety course for artisan chessemakers was created first, and launched in 2017. A website of resources was built to accompany the course in partnership with the American Cheese Society, and is available to anyone at Feedback for the course is positive, and has led to additional projects.

“We’re building a repertoire of dairy food safety resources,” D’Amico concludes. “Many of the next steps in my research and Extension program build off of previous work. Producers need solutions they can implement now, but there is a gap in education and interventions available, and that’s what we’re trying to fill. We don’t want producers operating blindly.”

D’Amico is currently working with another group of colleagues to build an online course for small- scale ice cream producers. “Recent foodborne illness outbreaks have shown that ice cream is not the safe haven some thought it was,” he says. “There are food safety issues specific to ice cream that need to be addressed.” An accompanying website is also under development for ice cream food safety resources.

Team members know that training people to identify environmental pathogens in a dairy plant is best done in person. However, time and geography constraints still exist. D’Amico is collaborating with his colleagues at North Carolina State University on a virtual reality simulator that will provide this training. The simulation includes case studies to further enhance learning.

A Food Safety Plan Coaching Workshop for small-scale dairy producers helps producers comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The three- year project funded by USDA offers six workshops per year. “We’re focusing the workshop on underserved regions where there aren’t dairy foods specialists avail- able,” D’Amico says.

A core group of trainers, including D’Amico, serve as national coaches and travel to each region, collaborating with regional resources and connecting producers. There is one regional coach for each six participants. At the workshop, participants form groups based on their stage in the FSMA process, and leave the work- shop having made measurable progress on their written food safety plan.

Best Practices guides are another project undergoing a digital transformation. “We first published the Best Practices Guide for Cheesemakers in 2015, and it’s updated every two years,” D’Amico says. “However, the next version will be click- able and user friendly. Instead of a 300-page PDF, the user can click directly on the section they need. We are also developing a similar toolkit for retailers. This is another collaboration with the American Cheese Society.”

Consumer demand will continue to drive consumption of dairy products and local food. Even in best case scenarios, food safety issues will arise. Small-scale dairy producers and consumers can be confident that D’Amico and his team of students are searching for solutions and developing tools to share new actionable interventions.

Article by Stacey Stearns

Red, White & Blueberries

Celebrate our Nation’s Independence with Connecticut Grown Food

Connecticut grown strawberries, cheese, and blueberriesAs you celebrate our nation’s independence this Fourth of July, choose Connecticut Grown foods for your holiday gatherings. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut,” said Bryan P. Hurlburt, Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner. “Stop by your local farm store or farmers’ market as you prepare for the holiday weekend. Your purchase will support a local family business and nothing tastes as good as fresh, local, Connecticut Grown food on your picnic table.”

Berries are in full swing with blueberries and raspberries just starting and strawberries finishing up. Combine all three to create delicious desserts, salads and even breakfast casseroles. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite recipes from triple berry trifles to spinach berry salad on our Connecticut Grown Pinterest page with a “4th of July Treats” board featuring an array of red, white and blue dishes.

This holiday weekend also heralds the availability of sweet corn. While the early spring weather has put sweet corn a few days behind schedule, some farmers started picking this past weekend in anticipation of the upcoming holiday to stock farm stands. Others, like Dave Burnham of Burnham Farms in East Hartford, CT, will have it available this weekend. “Starting Saturday we will have sweet corn available,” he said. Stop by a farm stand or farmers’ market to pick up early butter and sugar sweet corn.

For the grill masters, Connecticut farmers offer a range of meats including chicken, lamb, and beef, as well as, bison and turkey. Whether you prefer wings, steak, burgers or sausage, rest assured there is something for everyone.

Use local honey or maple syrup to make your own marinade and toss together a salad using fresh Connecticut Grown greens as a healthy side. Find a meat, vegetable, honey and maple syrup producer near you at

If a clambake is more your style, Connecticut’s coastline is home to an abundance of seafood, including oysters and clams. Shellfishing is an important component of Connecticut’s economy along with recreation and tourism industries. When selecting shellfish look for names such as Copps Island, Stella Mar, Mystics, and Ram Island or places including Fishers Island Sound, Noank, Norwalk and Thimble Islands.

Complete your appetizer trays with an award-winning Connecticut cheese and include ice cream, yogurt or milk from a Connecticut dairy farm family in your desserts.  Don’t forget to visit a Connecticut farm winery or brewery for your favorite adult beverage to enjoy responsibly with friends and family.

From all of us at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, we wish you a happy and safe Fourth of July celebration.

Article and photo: Connecticut Department of Agriculture

Award Winning Cheese

2018 cheese awards

The UConn Creamery, part of the Department of Animal Science, has once again taken home awards from the annual American Cheese Society Judging and Competition. Our Chipotle Queso Blanco and our Green Chile Queso Blanco were recognized for excellence amongst 1966 products from over 200 entering companies. Both cheeses were awarded third place in their category.

Food Safety for Artisan Cheesemakers

cheese productionDr. Dennis D’Amico has been working with North Carolina State University to convert his cheese food safety workshop into an online program. They recently launched the online course: Food Safety for Artisan Cheesemakers. The course will be offered at no cost until the end of the year by using the code INTRO-FREE.   To enroll :

The course was designed to assist Artisan and Farmstead Cheese-makers to develop/refine their food safety programs to protect consumers and comply with food safety regulations. It is intended to equip cheese-makers with knowledge of basic food safety concepts and introduce a number of best practices/preventive controls.  The class was developed at North Carolina State University in a collaborative effort of food safety and cheese experts from the University of Connecticut, the Center For Dairy Research, Cornell University, the Innovation Center for US Dairy, and includes extensive input from Artisan Cheesemakers.  The course begins with a welcome letter and orientation to online learning and then has five interactive learning modules with professional voiceover, video, and an accompanying quiz:
Lesson 1: Importance of Food Safety
Lesson 2: Regulations and Standards
Lesson 3: Food Safety Hazards
Lesson 4: Good Manufacturing Practices and Process Controls
Lesson 5: Environmental Pathogen Monitoring and Testing

UConn Cheese Wins Award

cheese with ribbon

For the third year in a row the  UConn Dept. of Animal Science Creamery’s cheese was recognized for excellence amongst 1,843 products from 260 companies in the 2016 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition.  This year the creamery’s Chipotle Pepper Queso Blanco took third in it’s category making it three award in three years.

We just received the results from the 2016 Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competitions. There were 175 cheeses entered by 33 Cheesemakers throughout New England. Both our Green Chile Queso Blanco and our Chipotle Pepper Queso Blanco were awarded Bronze in their category. Our unflavored Queso Blanco received a Bronze medal in the Open Category.

Green Chile Queso Blanco Wins Award

image001For the second year in a row the new cheese line from the UConn Dept. of Animal Science Creamery has won a national award. The Creamery’s Green Chile Queso Blanco took third in it’s category in the 2015 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition! The cheese was recognized by the judges for excellence amongst 1,779 products from 267 entering companies. Connecticut’s LiuzziAngeloni Cheese and Calabro Cheese Corporation also took home ribbons for several of their fantastic cheeses.

The Creamery’s Queso Blanco was also awarded a gold medal in the open class at the 8th annual Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competition while their Chipotle Queso Blanco was awarded a Bronze in it’s category. This year 139 cheeses were entered by 32 Cheesemakers from throughout New England. Connecticut’s own Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in Lyme took the Best in Show with their Farmstead, an aged sheep’s milk cheese