IMPORTANT NOTE - Since writing this post, USU Extension has released this statement:
"IS IT SAFE TO WAX CHEESE AND KEEP IT IN STORAGE?
Brian Nummer, Utah State University Extension food safety specialist
From time to time, dubious methods arise for preparing and storing various food items. Current information being circulated about the merits of dipping cheese in wax and placing it in storage for many years can be placed in this category. Consider the science.
• Waxing cheese is a method to minimize mold growth on the surface of cheese. It cannot prevent growth or survival of many illness-causing bacteria. In fact, it may promote anaerobic (absence of oxygen) bacteria growth, such as botulism. The practice of waxing cheese for storage is considered extremely unsafe.
• Before the days of refrigeration, cheese was dryer and fermented to a lower pH (higher acid). These types of cheeses were traditionally stored at room temperature with wax covers. The very low pH and fermentation byproducts could inhibit foodborne illness bacteria. An example is parmesan-style cheese. Acid, dryness and fermentation byproducts make this cheese storable at room temperature.
• Today, many cheeses are made strictly for storage under refrigeration. These cheeses may not have a low pH and other factors created in the manufacturing process to prevent illness-causing bacteria growth because the manufacturer knows the cheeses will be kept refrigerated. If someone waxes this cheese and places it in food storage, there is no science indicating any level of safety. In fact, there is evidence to the opposite ? placing cheese meant for refrigeration at room temperature is a significant risk and hazard for foodborne illness.
Contact your local USU Extension office for further information on safe home food preservation and for storage advice."
I NO LONGER RECOMMEND WAXING CHEESE AS A GOOD STORAGE METHOD!
Last night I attended a local food storage class. They taught us how to bottle chicken, use wheat berries as a meat filler/extender, and how to preserve cheese by dipping it in wax. I was particularly interested in the cheese. Thus far, I have stored cheese for my three-month supply in several forms: a block of cheese in my fridge, grated cheese portioned into bags in my freezer, powdered cheese, and canned cheese. Without refrigeration, I would only have powdered cheese, (which is great for macaroni and cheese but not much else) and my canned cheese (which is very expensive). We love cheese and use it in many of our meals. This could be a great way to make cheese available for a three-month supply.
1) Purchase "cheese wax." Our instructor said that 3 - 1 lb. bricks (around $6.50 each) will coat 10 lbs of cheese. My initial response was that the cost of the wax made it too expensive. But our instructor went on to explain that this wax is reusable. Just peel it off as you use it, wash it with warm soapy water, and set it aside in a Ziploc bag.
2) Use a double boiler to melt the wax. The wax will ruin any pan that you use. She actually set a stainless steel bowl into her top double boiler pan so that she didn't ruin the pan. Be slow and cautious as you melt the wax since it is flammable.
3) Cut your cheese into meal-sized portions. Cheese surfaces must be dry. Dip half into the wax, and set it to dry on a paper towel. Dip the other half once it has dried (only a few minutes). She does a total of three coats.
4) Store blocks in a food-grade bucket or bin layered with wax or parchment paper. This protects the cheese from gashes and bumps that could compromise the wax.
Cheese preserved this way tastes sharper the longer it is stored. So choose a mild cheese to start with. We sampled some of her cheddar and mozzarella. The cheddar after only three months was already significantly sharper. The mozzarella, on the other hand, didn't seem any different.
If you like the idea of storing waxed cheese, but don't really want to dip your own, you can purchase already dipped blocks of cheese at Costco or at your local market. They are more expensive and you would want to be aware of the size of the block and how fast you would use that amount.
I cannot find a firm estimate of shelf life. Some have indicated that the wax can start to crack after about 6 months. Our instructor said you can redip the wax if it starts to crack. She recommends using the cheese within 18 months. You can also extend the life of unwaxed cheese by coating it with olive oil.
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