Recently we published a story on whether or not you can still use ground beef that has turned brown (TL;DR: Probably, but if it smells bad it’s got to go). A commenter then posted another interesting question in the is-it-okay-to-eat category: How can you tell when blue cheese goes bad? After all, it smells pretty pungent to begin with. What happens when it goes bad—it starts to smell good? In the interest of science, and because we love blue cheese, we decided to investigate.
Omer Reese, a retired Chicago-based cheese distributor and bonafide blue fan, assuaged our fears: “I don’t think cheese, when it gets old or really goes bad… It’s not poison or anything.” In fact, in all his years of cheese mongering, “I don’t think I’ve actually ever had any that went bad.” That’s because, he says, blue cheese is very “flexible,” and can vary wildly from color (greenish, blueish) to texture. It also has “a hundred different shades of flavor, depending on the kind, and the age and so forth. Some of it is very acrid, and some of it is almost sweet. So unless it tastes totally unpleasant,” he concludes, “it probably wouldn’t be a problem.”
Carie Wagner, Wisconsin’s only female master cheesemaker (an official state designation), and cheese and egg product manager at Organic Valley, also enthuses about the stinky stuff. “I love blue cheese and always have some on hand in my fridge.” As a fan and certified cheese expert, she has a few tips to make your blue last longer. When purchasing your blue, “look for blue/green mold and a cream-to-white body.” When you open the cheese, “a slight ammonia smell is okay,” but as blue continues to get stronger with age, best to eat it within a week or two. To that end, she purchases her blue in small packages (8 ounce or less), to keep an abundance of the cheese from going bad. And to keep your blue from being affected by other cheeses—and to keep your blue from stinking up the joint—store all your open cheese in separate freezer bags in your fridge. Wagner added that she’s repacked blue cheeses and it kept in her fridge for 8-months-plus, but for best results, buy in small quantities and eat within a few weeks.
That months-old wonderful cheese, however, likely did not feature any of the following warning signs Wagner says to look out for: “Mold that is gray, fuzzy, black; yeast—shiny, pink, yellow clusters; slimy body,” which indicates that the cheese is beginning to go bad. Like Reese, she urges you to go with your gut: If it tastes or smells like something you wouldn’t want to eat, don’t eat it.
Jill Giacomini Basch, co-owner of California’s famed Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company & The Fork (known for its exemplary blue cheese), also points to bad smells and pink hues as indicators that the blue cheese has gone to the dark side: “It smells musty, rancid, or ammoniated, or it develops a pinkish hue.” Also, if it has become dry and hard.
So it looks like even something as stinky as blue cheese can let you know if it’s no longer palatable for consumption. If it’s fuzzy, slimy, pinkish, or the smell has gone from stinky all the way to noxious, best to go back to the fancy cheese store and start all over.
Have any burning questions about food or drink you’d like The Takeout to explore in this column? Send us your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.