When it comes to potato chips, it is hard to imagine eating it without a cream cheese dip. Similarly, when you think of the best spreads for your bagel, cream cheese undoubtedly comes to your mind.
Milk and cream combined together result in this velvety smooth fresh cheese which can be used in an array of dishes to enhance the flavors and make them taste incredibly good. Some of these dishes include desserts like cheesecake or sides like mashed potatoes which are entirely incomplete without cream cheese. Not to mention, the cream cheese frosting on cakes which literally makes some of us lick our fingers clean!
Whether it is store-bought or homemade, cream cheese demands to be eaten fresh. If there is anything left to decipher from that, it is that when cream cheese is no longer fresh, it is no longer fit to be eaten. However, what most people do not know is how long this “fresh” period lasts and when exactly the cream cheese goes bad.
So, to make things simple and to clear all your confusions regarding this matter, make sure to keep reading ahead!
So, What is Cream Cheese?
To start off, cream cheese is a kind of cheese made from milk and cream (already mentioned above) which has a milk fat content of 33% and moisture content of 55%. Cream cheese is very similar to mascarpone and Boursin in regards to the flavor, taste, texture and the manufacturing process.
It is a widely manufactured product all over the world but can also be made at home using milk, cream and an acidic substance like lemon juice or vinegar with a pinch of salt. The result is the same as the store-bought cream cheese minus the added preservatives like guar. Many who make cream cheese at home like to play with their cream cheese by adding special flavors to it like herbs or fruits to give it an extra edge.
How Long Does Cream Cheese Last?
Typically, refrigerated cream cheese stays fresh for about 2-4 weeks after it has been opened. This is applicable for all types of cream cheese after they have been opened or used. In order to make the cream cheese last longer, make sure the temperature of the refrigerator is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or 3-4 degree Celsius.
Fat-reduced cream cheese that has not been opened can stay fresh for 2-3 weeks when refrigerated. Unopened and foil-wrapped solid or block cream cheeses have a typical shelf life of 2 months. This is only applicable if the block has been frozen in the freezer. Regular and flavored ones can last for about 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator if they have not been opened.
Factors Affecting the Shelf Life
Whether you are trying to figure out the shelf life of cream cheese in order to store it or because you have a bit left in the fridge, do not just buy or store it considering the facts above. There are a few factors that play an important part in determining the shelf life. Consider those too before you make a decision. However, the factors have been listed below to give you an overall idea:
Factor 1: moisture content
Like most dairy products, cream cheese too tends to go bad quite quickly. A variety of cream cheese is available in the market in different textures and forms – regular, flavored, whipped or fat-reduced. Their textures and consistencies vary from one another and so do their moisture contents. The moisture content is what determines whether it is a soft cheese or a hard one.
Needless to say, the soft ones go bad faster in comparison to the solid ones. This is due to the moisture content. The more the moisture is present, the faster the cream cheese will get spoiled.
Factor 2: Manufacturing method
This is obvious. The manufacturing process is crucial in determining how long the cream cheese will last. Different manufacturers use various methods to make cream cheese, hence, there might be slight differences in what will stay fresh for longer.
Similarly, homemade ones will last for a shorter period. All of it depends on how it has been made. Also, do not forget the preservatives that get added to cream cheese to make them last longer. These too may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Factor 3: Packaging
For store-bought cream cheese, packaging makes a huge difference too. Different producers use a variety of containers to sell their cream cheese in. If the container is heat processed, then the cream cheese should last for about six months when refrigerated. Some others can last for months before the container of cream cheese has been opened. Check the labels on the container to see if it has been processed to keep the cheese fresh for long time periods.
How To Know if the Cream Cheese Has Gone Bad
The most useful tool needed for this task is probably your nose! Take a whiff of your cheese. Any spoiled cream cheese will smell rancid and moldy. If it does, then it is definitely time to toss it in the garbage bin. However, do keep in mind that cream cheese in its normal conditions smells mildly tangy or acidic (cream cheese is slightly acidic in nature) but pleasant nonetheless.
Do not confuse the two smells because tangy and rancid both essentially mean sour. Just remember, if it is spoiled, it will smell foul and unpleasant, unlike cream cheese that is in good condition.
Your second tool for this task is your eyesight. Take a long look at your cream cheese. If it appears moldy (you will see mold growing in areas), do not attempt to ingest this cream cheese. Simply throw it away because mold is a clear sign that the cheese has gone bad. In case of solid cheese, you can get rid of the moldy areas using a knife or spoon.
But for cream cheese which is an incredibly soft type of cheese, it is not safe to do this. The reason is simple – the toxins released by the molds can diffuse or spread through the cream cheese because it is too soft unlike other cheese types that are solid. Hence, moldy cream cheese even after the mold has been gotten rid of, is inedible.
If you notice that your cream cheese has started to dry out into something wax-like with a yellow color, it is another sign that the cheese is quickly deteriorating. This is because cream cheese has high moisture content and drying out definitely means it is on its way to getting spoiled.
Even though this dried out version of cheese can be ingested without any health hazard, it will not taste or feel like cream cheese at all. If only a part of the cheese has dried out, get rid of that specific area and you may use whatever is left of it only if it appears and smells like it should.
Another sign of spoilage you should look out for is cracks and fractures on the surface of the cheese. This is usually accompanied by little puddles of liquid. The more the time passes, the more the surface of the cheese will appear to dry out. Then eventually the process of separation will begin, which is the reason behind the accumulation of liquid in the cheese. This cheese too, if found in such conditions, should not be eaten without any further questions!
Look out for any signs of discoloration on the cream cheese. It has a typical off-white and cream color. Anything slightly darker or yellowish should be taken as an indicator that the cream cheese is expired.
Even though most of us dislike the wastage of food, in no way should you compromise your health by eating expired cream cheese. It can have adverse effects on your body, especially your stomach. Hence, if you discover anything that looks inedible, do not put yourself or anybody else’s health in jeopardy. Rather, dump it in the trash can.
Storing Cream Cheese in the Refrigerator
Storing cream cheese in refrigerators is quite simple. The temperature should be about 40 degrees Fahrenheit whether it has been opened or not. If you have opened and used the cheese, re-seal the cheese in its original packaging and put it in an airtight container. If you want, you can ditch the foil-wrap and put it directly in the container. In order to prolong the shelf-life, it is advised to keep the cream cheese out in the open for only two hours.
Freezing Cream Cheese
We have often heard that if you plan to store something long term, you should freeze it. In the case of cream cheese, we can do this too. But storing cream cheese long term has a price to it. The price is the texture and consistency of the cream cheese.
Cream cheese is generally soft, smooth, creamy, silky and all things good. However, after it has been frozen, there is a considerable change in its texture. The cheese becomes all crumbly and brittle, no longer smooth and creamy.
The high moisture content of cream cheese is the key here. The moisture in the cheese tends to freeze when kept in the freezer and quickly melts once it is taken out. This leads the cheese to become crumbly as the water separates itself from the cheese curds due to the freezing followed by the defrosting.
Since the cream cheese goes through this change after freezing and becomes so very friable, it will no longer be fit to be used as a spread of any kind. Though it can be used in cheesecakes and casserole fillings or things that involve cooking and baking. Any cream cheese that has been in the freezer for two months or less should be perfectly fine to use. However, we do not encourage you to use any cream cheese that has been frozen for a period longer than two months.
In order to freeze a block of cream cheese, make sure it has been wrapped properly with the original packaging. If you want, go a step further and wrap it with another layer of foil or cling wrap. The point is to ensure that none of the cream cheese comes in contact with air or moisture. A tightly sealed cream cheese will guarantee that this does not happen, preventing it from drying out.
Also, if it has been placed near something which emanates strong scents or your freezer generally has a smell of its own, the wrapping will be assurance enough that the cheese will not absorb the smell. Otherwise, when you set about to use it in some dish, the cream cheese will start to smell and taste “off”. Then all you have to do is pop it in the freezer till you need it again.
As a general precaution, keep it away from anything that gives off any kind of smell. To thaw or defrost the cheese, transfer it from the freezer to the refrigerator and let it rest there for the whole night. It should be soft enough to use the next day.
Having said all that, hopefully you feel as though you know much more about cream cheese than you did when you first started reading the article. Whether you plan to make your own cheese or buy it from a nearby store, we hope now you know everything you needed to know about the shelf life of cream cheese and know exactly what to do. Make delicious dishes before you even have to question how long the cream cheese will last. The fresher it is, the better it will taste. Nothing beats a great cream cheese dip for chips or pretzels. Or you could also try making your very own cheesecake with it!