Knowing when you cheese has reached the end of its life is sometimes trickier than it seems. Each cheese ages differently and therefore spoils differently. There are 3 main attributes you want to look for when determining if your cheese has gone bad–smell, appearance, and taste. Many times, you will have to use a combination of these three to determine if your cheese is done.
Smell – Because cheese is a dairy product, one sign of spoiled cheese is an “off” smell. Depending on the type of cheese, this scent can be of spoiled milk, ammonia, or even of a refrigerator or freezer. A smart thing to do is to smell your cheese when you first purchase it, so you have a good understanding of how it is supposed to smell and you will be able to notice when something is off. Sometimes cheeses can be pungent and “off” smelling to begin with. These cheeses can be trickier and you shouldn’t rely on the smell alone.
Appearance – If you are unfamiliar with cheese, you may get worried at the first site of small amounts of surface mold and feel the need to discard your cheese. Don’t! It is natural for cheese to want to grow mold. If your cheese has some surface mold, try trimming 1/4-inch off of the side which is growing mold. If below that is clean, and it exhibits no other signs of spoilage, then you should be good! However, if the entire piece is covered in thick mold, it just may not be worth saving.
Mold isn’t the only appearance indicator. When a cheese has changed color–faded or darkened for example–is another indicator, as well as if the consistency in texture has changed. Other appearance indicators to keep an eye out for is any sliminess, oil, or bloated packaging.
Taste – When all else fails, you might just have to try a piece of your cheese to tell if it has gone South. I know you’re probably cringing at the thought. In the past year of my cheese adventures I have eaten more spoiled cheese than I would care to remember, but some cheeses are just so tricky that it is the only way. I recommend that if you think your cheese has spoiled and it comes down to a taste-test, only taste a piece large enough to get the flavor–don’t go eating a large hunk. Taste is the one indicator that is a dead giveaway that your cheese is bad. If your cheese tastes sour or just has a plain unpleasant aftertaste you’ll know your cheese is done.
Sadly cheese doesn’t live forever and most times you’ll have to use two or all three of these to determine if your cheese has gone bad. It is best if you consume your cheese by the date on the label or within a few days of purchasing it!