CURD QUIPS: Is your cheese fresh or frozen?

When it comes to cheese, there’s a fine line to walk in the cooler.  Living cheeses, meaning real cheeses, and especially raw milk cheeses are each alive.  These cheeses (like people) develop traits and features as they age – usually for the better.  Similarly, living cheeses have a lifespan. A lifespan that can be shortened as cheeses are exposed to prolonged heat or preserved in a cool and humid environment. Cool is good for cheese all the way down to 33 degrees.  Humidity requirements vary by type/ style of cheese.  

Generally, cheeses should not be frozen. Freezing kills a living cheese and changes its properties and can impact its texture.  Frozen cheeses once thawed present lesser aromas, are less flavorful and cannot mature.  Even so, frozen cheeses are not uncommon in many households.  These frozen cheeses are best used (immediately after thawing) for cooking.  In this manner, their texture and appearance are maintained and the flavors augmented by other components of the dish. Take frozen pizza for example.  Even in the best examples of this frozen product, a myriad of flavors are commingled in a manner vastly different than the distinct contrasts of flavor in a wood fired pizza oven made with fresh cheese. Yes, freezing kills the flavor of a cheese.  

Then, like most things, there are exceptions.  Chevre is one of the most notable with a “structure” unlike many other cheeses. The curds are not so much cleaved and separated from the whey as they are nudged to cohabitate in a smaller place. This higher moisture cheese can be frozen without impact. In fact, many producers claim that the Chevre is better after being frozen.  Keep in mind Chevre has a shorter lifespan and the maturing not as relevant as let’s say Camembert or Epoisse. Accordingly, Chevre is one of these exceptions and is commonly frozen.

For smaller (cooler climate) goat dairy farm producers this freezing exception makes year round cheese possible and allows for time off for mama goats and staff. Goats are unique in many ways. For instance, did you know that their eyes are “wired” to their pituitary glands?   High school biology refresher – Goats will not reproduce until the sun hits their eyes at a particular angle. The angle that corresponds with the return of spring and the vegetation needed to help support milk production.  

Said another way, there is no goat milk (as you move away from the equator without manual intervention) in winter and hence no cheese.  The blessed abundance of spring and summer milk is made into Chevre and held frozen so that cheese can be made year round.  Accordingly when you go to a farmers market don’t be surprised if their fresh Chevre is actually previously frozen.  It can be a good thing, like a taste of cooler days.