I've been conducting some informal experiments lately on freezing cheese. I know it's best to not freeze cheese but in the event you, like me, have a spotty supply pipeline, I thought I'd like to get some kind of baseline on how the cheese I primarily use performs after freezing. I know I'm probably being a bit ambitious but I've had good luck freezing some sauces and raw flour freezes well too. My results are mostly empirical since I didn't know what to measure as a before/after quantity beyond performance and taste characteristics (which can end up being very subjective...).
First off some terms.
When I say "freeze" that means, unless otherwise noted, a whole pre-sealed block of cheese is put into my chest freezer for no less than one week. I placed all the cheese in my chest freezer baskets and not "down deep". I checked my freezer several times over the course of this experiment and it came in at just under 30 degrees whenever measured. My freezer is a Sears standard chest freezer, about 9 cu ft.
When I say "thaw" that will always mean the cheese was removed from the freezer and placed in my 38 degree refrigerator for at least two full days before I would shred/crumble it.
The cheese I used is Grande. I bought three blocks of part-skim in December '06 and three more whole milk blocks in Jan '07, "born on" dates suggested both batches I purchased had been made in the last 30+ days before purchase. For each type of mozzarella (whole milk and part skim), I used one block right away as a control group in attempt to get a baseline for taste, performance, etc. For another (random) data point, I also ordered one 6 lb block of Cedar Valley provolone cheese, used 1/2 right away and froze 1/2.
I used the cheese according to the following schedule:
End of December: purchased three blocks of Grande part skim mozzarella, used one fresh, froze the other two
End of January: purchased three blocks of Grande whole milk mozzarella, used one fresh, froze the other two
End of Feb: thawed one block of Grande part skim for use
End of March: thawed one block of Grande whole milk for use; purchased one block of Cedar Valley provolone, put 1/2 to use right away.
End of April: thawed last block of Grande part skim for use
End of May: thawed last block of Grande whole milk for use; thawed last 1/2 of Cedar Valley provolone for use.
The unfrozen blocks of cheese behaved as one would expect: great taste, flavor, consistency and oven performance.Cheese frozen two months:
I was very surprised and excited to use the first thawed blocks of cheese. Looking at my notes, I'd have to say that within probably -10%, they behaved as well as cheese that was never frozen. I did tend to note a bit more crumbly aspect to the cheese when I was working with/shredding it. Also, my notes tell me I didn't initially notice it but I did remember that pizzas were coming out just a touch more oily than before. More on oil later...Cheese frozen four months:
Now to the more disappointing results. (Somewhere I know scott r is saying "No duh!"...
) It was immediately noticeable that the blocks of cheese frozen for four months had taken a performance hit. The first thing I noticed was the cheese appeared to be firmer and drier. There was no doubt about it being more crumbly when I was shredding it. I tasted some of the uncooked cheese and it appeared to have lost some of the creamy taste I liked but still tasted okay.
However, the biggest thing I noticed was the performance of the cheese when cooked had suffered. I'm normally able to put about 8 oz of cheese on one of my standard 14" pies however I noticed they these pies were coming out of the oven with literally a POOL of grease on top. It appears as if freezing the cheese had caused it to breakdown and when cooked the oil and solid portions seperated never to join again. In the past, I've had pies come out with some grease on top but as the pie cools, it reforms somewhat with the solid portion of the cheese. However, this was no longer the case. I had to take it down to almost 5 oz of cheese on a pie to keep from having a greasy mess (I'd still get a pool of grease albeit a smaller, more tolerable one). The flavor was lacking also. At this point, I now consider the cheese unusable - it's lost a good portion of its flavor and the performance is terrible. I can say however that it performed about as well as the cut up chunks of Grande sold at some local supermarkets leading me to believe that they must freeze their cheese for a period of time also.
So, in summary, I'd say that if you're in a tight spot and need to freeze some cheese, two months, maaaaaybe three is about all you're really going to get out of it with a noticeable hit in quality. Unfortunately this is probably not enough of a solution to help smooth out my supply line. I found that it's probably better to have a "back up" fresh cheese that you feel is as close to good as possible and use that to smooth out any supply issues. I'm working more buffalo mozzarella into my pizzas (although my kids don't favor it).
Any questions, feel free to post and I'll try to answer to the best of my knowledge.