It’s interesting what a seemingly innocuous sounding sentence can do. Apparently the phrase “you can wax your own cheese and store it” is a vile enough claim to cause some to turn on their evil buttons. Oh the controversy. But the problem is that the misinformed cheese wax controversy is causing some to not have their favorite food group in stock in the event of an emergency. No cheese? That’s practically against my religion. I’d rather be hung by my toes and pummeled with an organic carrot than be forced to survive without chocolate and cheese. So, I consider it my duty to share the sound reasons as to why I’m completely comfortable waxing and storing my own cheese.
Sure as shootin’, if you e-mail or question someone at your local extension office or the USDA they will give you the canned statement that the preservation of dairy products without refrigeration is not recommend and may be harmful to your health. However, as in all government and bureaucratic agencies, if you ask enough people, you’ll find conflicting information. The sanctity of storing cheese without refrigeration is no exception. Not only have I found several government and educational entities which agree that hard cheeses do not require refrigeration, but the history books are replete with examples of cheesemakers, restaurateurs, and homemakers doing without the refrigeration of their cheeses long before and after the 1940’s when refrigeration became more widely accepted.
Before union health inspectors swept through the streets of New York City, no self-respecting Italian would ever refrigerate their freshly made mozzarella cheese. In fact, there are still a handful of devout artists who refuse to do so. In spite of today’s advanced technologies, the shop windows in Poland and France are still dotted with a beautiful range of cheeses hanging from the ceiling, tied with cotton string, and snugly wrapped in cheesecloth and wax. Cheese artists will tell you that the masterpiece taste of cheese lies in the aging process, the quality of molds, starters, fermentation, and brining. Refrigeration merely inhibits these agents from developing—without which the taste buds of any cheese aficionado are offended. But alas, mass production has caused the health departments to step in and ensure that no consumer contracts a deadly foodborne illness—specifically botulism poisoning. Yup. Every year the USDA spends hundreds of million of tax dollars so that they can prevent those 160 cases of botulism which occur about every 10 years—103 of them in Alaska, due to the fermented meat eating habits of the Alaska Natives there.
It’s interesting to note that after a solid week of research on the internet and in the library, I only found one case in which any persons contacted botulism from “cheese.” And in this particular instance (1951) it was actually a commercially canned cheese sauce that was the perpetrator. Yet for some reason, we are still strongly cautioned against waxing cheese and preserving it. Adding insult to injury, (literally) I get to tolerate the ridiculous e-mails from some, accusing me of being some kind of a fascist because I’m advocating that folks wax and store their own cheese. Such accusations are ostensibly based on scientific research. But my research begs the question, “What kind of science is this?” If I tried to use one case in 1951 as the basis of a 6th grade report on “the dangers of waxing your own cheese” I’d surely get an F grade. We’ve had thousands of individuals who’ve been able to reverse their cancer symptoms with vitamin B-12, and yet that’s not considered to be enough scientific evidence to promote such a valuable and non-invasive treatment for our American citizens. So, I’m thinking that one 11-ounce can of tainted commercially processed cheese sauce is certainly not sufficient scientific evidence to say that waxing my own cheese is bad for me—especially in light of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have joyfully indulged in cheese preserved this way for generations, in all types of weather, all over the world.
Now, making it perfectly clear that I don’t put much stock in something that the USDA says, common sense and an understanding of botulism should cause any cheese waxer to take certain precautions. So I’m going to give you some additional guidelines in order to prevent you from getting sick. (Cowardly useless disclaimer: Wax and consume waxed cheese at your own risk. There. Now my attorney will be happy.)
Only Wax Hard Cheeses
The less moisture you have in your cheeses, the better they are for waxing. The cheese wax controversy is fed by individuals attempting to wax any kind of cheese. But the hard cheeses are the only kind that should be stored this way. The cheeses that I wax are Parmigiano-Reggiano, cheddar, Swiss, Romano, Gruyere, and Colby. In order to eliminate a problem of moisture coming from the inside of your cheese and causing bacteria, select cheeses to wax that aren’t more than 40% moisture. These cheeses will typically continue to age and get sharper in taste, but I think these kinds of cheeses taste better the sharper they get. I LOVE Gruyere on potatoes, Colby paired with chicken, and Swiss paired with pork, Romano paired with risotto, and Parmesan paired with pasta. The sharper the better. Yum. In my extensive research I found several extension services and university instructions which specifically stated that hard cheeses did NOT require refrigeration such as Purdue, Mississippi State University, and the FDA. The key to this being the case is the hardness of the cheese—meaning the lack of moisture.
I also interviewed 3 professional cheesemakers over this past week. All of them were of the same opinion and experience that they regularly store the hard cheeses waxed for 2 years or more. Even the cheese aging process requires that cheese be stored at cool room temperatures—not refrigeration.
- Part of the cheese wax controversy comes with the problem of using the wrong kind of wax. When it comes to the science of waxing your cheese, I can't say it strongly enough. The only wax you should use is cheese wax. Please do not use paraffin wax. While the cheese wax actually melts at lower temperatures than paraffin, it can ultimately (and safely) reach a higher temperature than paraffin. You want this in order to prevent any bacteria from growing on the outside. So be sure your wax is hot enough. Germs are killed at 180 degrees, so heat up your wax to 200 degrees so that when the temperature is dropped when you put it on the cheese, you still are applying wax that is 180 degrees or more. (Don’t heat the wax hotter than 210 degrees F. After heating my wax sufficiently, I turn off the heat source completely.)
- Cheese wax is also more pliable than paraffin. Whatever position you put your cheese in when you store it, gravity will come into play and readjust it a bit. Thus you want a wax that will move with it. Paraffin wax will not do that. Cheese wax also dries faster than paraffin, making your task less time consuming and giving less opportunity for moisture to develop during the waxing process.
- In view of the gravity issue I’ve already mentioned, it’s also smart to wax smaller sections of cheese instead of heavy ones in which the weight will cause a greater shift in the position of the cheese. (Since most of my recipes call for 1 to 2 cups of shredded cheese, I like to wax nothing bigger than 16 ounces of cheese.)
- Use food handling gloves on your hands when you wax the cheese. The oils from your hands will affect how the wax adheres to the cheese. With your bare hands it’s also easy to add germs to your cheese.
Next, the color of wax doesn’t matter. (Some crazy visually impaired person must have started that particular cheese wax controversy :)) The color of the wax is really only symbolic to the commercial cheese industry in terms of how long a cheese has aged. However, I prefer to always use the red or the black wax since it will allow less light into the cheese.
- Prior to putting your cheese in the wax, or brushing it, be sure to pat the cheese completely dry. You don’t want to see any moisture on it at all. This is part of the reason why I’m adamantly against folks freezing their cheese before or after waxing it. If you freeze it and then put hot wax on it, you are forcing an expansion and condensation process. The same happens if you freeze it after waxing it. You don’t want any expansion going on. Let it sit out to get to room temperature prior to waxing it.
- If you have trouble getting your wax to adhere to the cheese, then consider wrapping the cheese first in real cheesecloth material. I apply just a little bit of wax with the brush in order to keep the cheesecloth in place prior to dipping it. (For applying wax on your cheese, I don’t recommend using cheap cheesecloth from the grocery store. It barely qualifies as cheesecloth. What you want is a bit thicker, more muslin type. I recommend getting the cheesecloth from a dairy farmer, or a cheesemaking supply retailer on the internet.)
- Use several thin coats of wax instead of a couple of thick ones. I have adapted to dipping my cheese in the wax 3 separate times and then I brush on the last coat, for a total of 4 coats. It’s key to use the boar’s hair brush, because that will give you the most even and smooth coat of wax. You can brush all of your coats of wax on if you’d like, but it takes longer and it requires more wax. (The good news is though that you can reuse your cheese wax. Just peel it, clean it with soap and water, and then you can re-melt it and use it again. I even save my “Bonne Bell” cheese wax and use it.)
- When you dip the cheese in the wax, hold the piece above the wax for a full 90 seconds to dry after you’ve dipped it; before dipping in another portion of the cheese. If you lay it down to cool/dry, then you run the risk of a crack or crevice to be created while the wax is cooling. So yes, my arms get tired sometimes, but I’d rather be sure that I’ve done the waxing process right. Also, don’t allow the cheese to sit in the wax when you dip it for longer than 5 seconds. You will run the risk of melting the cheese if you expose it to that heat for that long. (Yes, this is a bit of a tricky dance sometimes.)
The whole point of waxing your cheese is so you don’t have to take up valuable refrigeration space, and so you can still have REAL cheese in the event of a prolonged power outage scenario. It’s no secret that cheese has been around a LONG time—a lot longer than refrigeration. I assure you cheese was not discovered during the Ice Age. In the Roman Empire, cheese had become a major import/export business by 400 B.C. It doesn’t take a paleontologist to confirm that there wasn’t any refrigeration available back then. The Dutch actually created waxing and brining (salting) in order to extend the shelf-life of hard cheeses. I always picture Caesar indulging in cheese whenever he got stressed. :) http://www.publichealthmdc.com/environmental/food/documents/cheese.pdf
Nothing much has changed since then when it comes to storing cheese safely. The key lies in the light permeation and the temperature of your cheese. A non-clear wax used on your cheese can take care of the light issue. Storing your cheese out of direct sunlight, away from heat, and in a cool area takes care of the temperature issue. In fact, when cheese is aged by professional cheesemakers, it’s kept in temperatures ranging between 55-70 degrees F. In the Balkans, for instance, where the climate is warmer, the cheese is stored regularly at 70 degrees F. The storing of cheese at these temperatures occurs for several weeks or months during the aging process, depending on the type of cheese being made. If you don’t have a home which permits you to store your cheese regularly at this temperature range, then I don’t recommend that you try this route of cheese preservation.
Store, Air, and Rotate
Pick the coolest area of your home to store your cheese in. I recommend either putting the cheese in a cheesecloth (the cheap stuff is OK for this purpose) and then hang it on the ceiling, or to place your waxed cheese in a multi-tiered hanging wire basket trio (like the ones people store their fruits/vegetables in their kitchens.) Cheese is made with an active culture. Thus you want it to be able to “breathe.” I don’t have problems with rodents getting into mine this way. But if you do have a rodent problem, I recommend to keep the waxed cheese in large Mason jars with some holes punched on the top lid for breathing. It’s also recommended to change the position of your cheese every 4 weeks. As I said before, cheese will be affected by gravity. So, change the position so that it doesn’t “move” so much that it cracks the wax and to prevent the moisture from settling in your cheese. And as with EVERY other thing that you store in your food storage, be sure to rotate your cheese and use it as well.
Some good news for you to know, is that if your cheese does start to crack for some reason, you can simply rewax that area. If you see some mold developing, simply cut off the mold, about an inch deeper than you see it, and rewax that area. The good news is that no, you have not ruined an entire block of cheese. :)
On a final note, I think it’s interesting to note that if you were to go to the grocery aisles in the UK, you would not find your cheese in a refrigerated section. (The same goes for eggs and butter as well.) Believe it or not, here in the U.S. I’ve even found guidelines for retailers from the Public Health Dept. of Wisconsin—a state that definitely knows its cheese in which they share a similar sentiment. In their materials for grocers they specifically say that hard cheeses do NOT require refrigeration when on display. Ironically, my research also benefited from one of the very sources which one of my nemesis referred to when accusing me of the high crimes of cheese waxing. Even the local Utah Valley University Extension offices shared this with me in an e-mail:
A few cheeses based on their dryness, fermentation, and a few other factors are safe to store at room temperature. When these cheeses are stored that way, they can develop mold on the surface. Waxing the surface inhibits that mold.
Naturally, he wouldn’t tell me which cheeses he believed would benefit from waxing. But then again, I doubt he intended to help my research in this case either.
All in all, I hope that sharing some of this research on the cheese wax controversy and more specific tips will help you satisfy your desire for cheese in any circumstance.
(Please note these are not ALL of the cheese waxing directions which are far too lengthy for a blog article. Should you like to know how to wax your cheese perfectly and without errors that may cause you to have to do it all over again, please use the resource guide available on this site "For the Love of Cheese" as found in the Pre Pro Classes tab of this site. It includes video instruction and detailed written instruction. This way you won't get discouraged and your waxed cheese will turn out right the first time.)
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Though I haven't yet tried waxing my own cheese, I did an experiment this summer to see if pre-waxed cheese really did hold up at room temp. I bought a round of good waxed gouda, put it in the back of my pantry - which is abouy 80 degrees in summer - and left it for about 10 weeks. With trepidation, I cut it open last week. It was fine. I'm still eating on it - delicious. I'm storing it in the fridge now that it's cut open.
I wonder, how long and in what conditions would it stay safe to eat without refrigeration after cutting it open?
Seems like I've read about Europeans dipping a cloth in wine or vinegar and wrappind the cheese in that. Have you heard of that?
Kellene, you're awesome-another great article! I bought some-okay a lot of cheese and wax earlier this summer and intended to do it. Life got in the way and we ate most of the cheese already. I really appreciate this article because it is the most comprehensive one I have found yet. Part of the reason that I haven't started is because I was some what leery about proceeding. Your article has calmed some of the hesitancy I felt. I am ready again-After I buy some more cheese.
Thank you very much for all of this great information. Mom and I are getting ready to experiment with waxing cheese because, frankly, I don't think that either of us want to live in a world without a nice, sharp cheddar! :)
The moisture is why you don't want to store the cheese in a container. It's why I hang mine from the ceiling in cheese cloth. (Not it's intended use, but it works for me because it's a mesh fabric)
I like to start with mild cheddar because it does indeed get sharper. Although I LOVE it when the Swiss cheese gets sharper!
I believe you're dead right about waxing cheese for long-term storage.
But, are you aware that there is a CANNED (real) CHEDDAR CHEESE available? It's imported from Australia ... and is delicious .. AND it will store "forever".
One disadvantage of waxed cheese is that, once cut, it will start turning bad if not used fairly quickly. The canned cheddar cheese doesn't have that issue.
yes indeed I have heard of that. It's still being done today.
This sounds like a great way to store hard cheeses. I have seen some hard cheeses, in the grocery dairy case, that are already waxed. I have seen some chedar in black wax and some colby in orange wax. Is it ok to just go ahead and put them in my storage (if the wax looks uncracked), or should those be rewaxed? Also, they sell small wheels of gouda in red wax. What about that?
The key is to make sure it's HARD cheese. If you see that it's look clean and sealed, then yes, you can store it at room temperature. If it's a soft cheese though, do not. Cheddar should be fine. I wouldn't try it on Colby though. Gouda, depends on how long it's aged. Just do the feel test.
I tend to be a little "OCD" about my wax, so even when it's already waxed, I'll paint a coat on just to be sure.
Is there a type of local store that may carry cheese wax? I'm not too crazy about ordering from the web.
Yes, but you'll pay quite a bit more that way. Health food stores usually carry it. I know in my area that's where I can get it for about $6.50 a pound.
Way to go, Sarah! That doesn't sound like a great world to me either.
That's correct Bruce, but in my world, that's a very expensive cheese. As long as you wax your cheese into usable block sizes you should be fine. And, you can actually apply more wax on it once it's opened, or wrap it in a vinegar soaked cheesecloth to keep it fresh, or keep it in a jar of olive oil. There's a lot of ways to preserve it even after it's opened.
AMAZING!!! I had no idea! Thanks for taking your time to share your research. I am totally going to do this! Nice work, love your blog posts!
Do you order both your cheese wax and cheese cloth on line? Do you have any preferences you'd be willing to share? Thanks so much. I've only bought the canned cheese for my storage....it's ok but taste like velvetta so I'd love to wax my own cheese! Thanks! Kerri
I just hang my cheese with any ole cheesecloth, like I get at Wal-mart. I order the cheese was from cheesemaking.com
hello i love cheese and i think that everytime i eat cheese that i wonder how they made it. all i have to say is thankyou to the cheese maker!!!!
Heavens! I'd no idea how explosive cheesemaking could be! Thanks for the tip about covering the cheese with cloth to assist adhesion but it's hard to get a smooth finish as tailoring isn't my strong point. Do you cut a square? or two circles and a side piece?
I don't personally have a problem with adhesion, but it is a recommended troubleshooting method. Yes, you would cut enough to wrap it like a Christmas gift with the edges all tight.
I tested my amateur test batch from July of waxed cheese, and it was FANTASTIC! It did have some sweating so that was why I thought I had better check it and it was perfectly fine!
So I have more cheese to wax and planning to rewax my already waxed cheese (they are really lumpy and ugly) Thank you for this valuable resource!
I like that it saves room in my fridge too!
I waxed some mild cheddar about 3 months ago and wanted to make sure it was ok. We got it out and it has already sharpened considerably but it was great. Is mild cheddar hard enough to store this way? Also, I did notice moisture on it when we cut it open. Is that a problem? Thanks.
My wife and I have purchased 20 pounds of medium cheddar and we're excited to wax it. Approximately how much cheese wax will we need?
10 pounds of wax will do about 35 pounds of cheese.
I Love the show! I would like to know where to buy the wax to dip the cheeze in. Thanks
Just found this info. and so excited to try this. I love cheese and can't afford the canned. This method sounds great. I'm going to try it on cheddar and colby. I love the white Pepper Jack cheese, do you know if it would work on that. I'm not sure which cheese is considered "Hard" cheese. Thanks for your information.
My mom and I are getting ready to experiment with waxing cheese, having finally talked her into it. However, can't quite wrap minds around the actual dipping. Just tie it with a string and then dip? Do you then take all the string off or just the top?
Nope. You just use your CLEAN hands (preferably in a glove) and dip sections with the 5 second/90 second process that I've outlined in the article.
Forgive the novice question, but what about vacuum sealing cheese for the same purpose? (My husband is asking.)
Sorry. Vacuum sealing of cheese will not work whatsoever. Air still permeates plastic gradually. That's why when you put a piece of cheese in a zip lock bag it still gets moldy.
I just found your blog this morning (with this post) but I have no idea how I got here. I mentioned you on my blog, I hope that's okay.
I just talked with a lady who waxes her cheese and she did it over the wrapper. It was a Tillamook 2 pound loaf she showed me, that seems so simple. She also used paraffin wax (I think it was, it was the type they used to use for on top of jam), labeled household wax. What do you think of her methods?
I don't have a problem with over the wrapper, but I do have a problem using the parrafin wax. That's one of the most common mistakes foils make in waxing cheese. (the second is not waxing cheeses that are hard.)
I am trying to figure out if there is a safe way to prepare cheddar cheese to ship to my son who is serving overseas in a remote location. Tillamook brand Cheddar cheese is his specific request. I am estimating 4 weeks transit. I am very comfortable with preserving and storing foods in general in our home, but am not sure how to send this specific item to him safely. Any advice as to how I can fulfill his request?? I've enjoyed reading through your blog!
The snag is that Tillamook cheese has too much moisture content to be an ideal cheese to wax. I've recently discovered a treasure trove of cheeses at a place called the Utah Co-op. They have this delicious cave aged cheddar that beats anything I've ever had, and it's significantly less expensive. My point being if you are local go there, then wax it and then send it. But if you're not local, then go somewhere where there are more old fashioned cheeses available, try some for a mild cheddar taste, and test it for dryness. If you press on it and not leave an indentation, then it should be fine to wax and send.
Dang...I've got to go have some more of that delicious cheese now.
Thanks - I'll have to see about finding more 'old fashioned' cheeses. Being so close to Tillamook, it has always been the family favorite, so I never really tried to find a replacement for cheddar, but hey, cheese is great, so I think some tasting is in order, and I will have to see what I can come up with. I will have to see if I can find the cave aged cheddar you mentioned. One last question, since I figure what ever I try to send will be in transit for a month and I have no control over temperatures, any words of advice to give my son about what to look for that might indicate a cheese is unsafe? He's a smart guy, so the obvious mold or foul taste he would be on the lookout for. The last thing I want to do is to make him sick!!
A block of cheese takes a long time to go completely bad. It will develop mold on the outside when it begins to go bad, but the mold can simply be cut off and the rest of the cheese can be enjoyed. I strongly doubt that a whole block of cheese will go bad in 4 weeks time. Sometimes the cheese will "weep" too. But that too can simply be rinsed off, perhaps he can even cut of that particular portion, and then enjoy it just fine.
I think you're not understanding, Kellene. Tillamook is a brand-name (based in NW Oregon, but it's well-loved all over the Pacific NW). They make all types of cheeses - cheddars, swiss, mozzarella, jack, colby, etc. I would guess any of their hard cheeses are suitable to wax, just as any other brand of hard cheese is.
Uh, yes, I'm definitely understanding of this scenario. Tillamook is NOT a hard enough cheese for the most part. Tillamook is a commercial cheese and they need to make as much profit as possible. Thus water is an additive which is fine given our present technology of refrigeration. Again, you cannot wax any cheese unless it's nice and dry, low moisture.
This doesn't make sense. In the article, you are advocating cheddar as a good cheese to wax, without specifying any particular brand or type--in fact, you are even recommending waxing MILD cheddar, which, presumably, has the highest water content of any of the cheddars. Tillamook markets cheddars ranging from mild to so sharp it has little crystalline bits in it (hubs' favorite, and definitely NOT a high-moisture cheese). If you need a particular sort of cheddar for waxing, you should revise your article to say so.
Heather, you are assuming that you OR I have a knowledge of ALL of the brands of mild, sharp, extra sharp etc. cheddar out there. I have waxed MILD cheddar, because it was made by a cheese farm that didn't jack it up with water. There's no way that I could possibly address every cheese out there. Parmesan is supposed to be a hard cheese and yet I've purchased the very brand you mention and I still had to dry out nearly 20% of its weight before I could wax it. Furthermore, aren't you assuming just a tad bit that I'm somehow obligated to write for you every possible detail in one article? Sorry, it's just simply not possible which is why there are SEVERAL articles on cheese waxing as well as the ultimate in details, a large Resource Guide with DVD instruction aka "For the Love of Cheese", that's available to properly understand the method and process of waxing cheese at home.
So I'm sad that I can't use
So I'm sad that I can't use my Tillamook medium cheddar. Is there a way I can dry it out to use it? I currently have 3 1lb blocks in my freezer that I would be very sad to loose if we lost power.
Yes, you can dry it out. You
You use cheesecloth, but I was wondering if the net bags you get turkeys in would be ok to use to hang the cheese?
I would definitely recommend something finely meshed and cotton, IMO.
We buy large blocks of organic cheese with no food coloring added.
Can these large blocks be cut in 3-4 pieces and waxed? My question I suppose is if anything needs to be done to the cut part or do you just wax as usual?
I recommend waxing in 1 pound of half pound increments for several reasons. They are easier to wax, they are easier to seal, and you are more likely to use up that size for a meal or in a day.
Kallene, Hi, loved you on the NG preppers. Have a question about Vac. Sealing cheese. I see you posted 2 years ago not to do this. However, everything I am reading on line now says it seals out air better (as the wax breathes) and vac sealing may even slow the aging process. Do you still feel the same way about vac. sealing? I am using a commercial vac. sealer with a vac chamber, not the kind that sucks the air out with a tube. Thanks for all you are doing! Trish
I love waxing it instead of any other method I've found thus far. But I am doing some experiments and we'll see what happens in the future. :-)
How about we take all of the 'bad, dangerous cheese' and have it thrown into a mechanical processing unit, spray it with ammonia and use it as an additive in USDA approved cheese. Heck, we can just throw the cheese wax in too. We will call it 'aged cheese slime'. Oops-did I say that out loud?
I know this thread is a few years old but I looking for suggestions/answers to a cheese waxing problem. About 50% of the cheese I've waxed has moisture that is seeping through the wax with mold forming underneath. I waxed Cheddar, Swiss and Colby about three months ago, keep it at 70 or below in a dark ventilated area and turn it about every two weeks. Yesterday is the first time I noticed any moisture, and after peeling wax from several pieces I found mold. I followed the directions above for the most part to include 4 wax layers, gloves, letting the cheese rack dry x 3 days, patting with vinegar then drying another day before waxing. Can anyone give me feed back on possible issues with my process and if my cheese is still viable.
There are all kinds of bugaboos that can occur during cheesewaxing which is why it's one of the few topics I've covered in greater detail and with visual footage in the "For the Love of Cheese" Resource Guide found in the Prep Pro Classes section of this site. Since cheese is a big investment, I figured it merited having all of the information that wouldn't be suitably addressed in a couple of articles.
Hi just a point of information. In the UK stores butter and cheeses ARE in the refrigerator but not the eggs
Emma, you mean to tell me that you've never seen the beautiful array of cheeses hanging from the rafters outside of refrigeration?
I am thrilled to find your
I am thrilled to find your site. Marvelous. Now if we can hang onto our place financially, things will be okay. I am personally terrified about the state of things right now and I am 73 years old and seen a lot in the past. I am amazed that more people aren't preparing for what looks inevitable.