Feta is a soft, crumbly, and salty cheese. It has a distinct flavor that makes it popular in Greek cuisine as well as in other Mediterranean dishes. It’s often served crumbled over salads or added to sandwiches and omelets. But how long does feta cheese last?
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about storing feta. We’ll cover shelf life, storage options, and signs of spoilage.
Feta is a milky white and crumbly Greek cheese. Cheesemakers traditionally use sheep’s milk to make it. But modern versions of this soft cheese include a combination of sheep and goat milk.
It is tangy and salty at the same time.
Cheesemakers soak feta in brine as part of their aging and preservation process. For this reason, when you buy feta in stores, it will come with some brine.
You can buy this cheese in blocks or crumbles. After all, crumbling it over a Greek salad or a pasta dish is the most common way of eating this cheese.
Knowing how to store feta cheese properly is important to avoid waste. After all, you buy more feta at a lower price and want to enjoy it for the longest time possible.
If you fail to store it properly, it will defeat the purpose of buying it in bulk. You will end up spending more instead of saving.
Two of the most common dates you may find in the packaging of feta cheese are best-by and expiration dates.
These dates may have different meanings depending on your location. But no matter if the date indicated is best by or expiry, they only exist for you to gauge quality.
For example, food with an expiration or use-by date within the next month is fresher than those with dates that fall within the next week.
After all, eating food or feta beyond these dates won’t necessarily make you sick. In fact, USDA states that these dates do not indicate food safety, and Federal Law does not require it. The only exception to the rule is infant formula. So for other foods, including feta cheese, these dates are only quality indicators.
When unopened and in their original packaging, feta blocks will last up to 3 months in the fridge after expiration. Feta blocks come with brine, and this solution is a great preservative. For this reason, an unopened feta block has a long shelf life.
Crumbled feta, however, are available in packages without the brine. Because of this difference, crumbled feta does not last as long as feta blocks.
Still, unopened feta crumbles will stay good for up to a week after the date on their label.
It is always best to store unopened feta cheese in its original packaging. This packaging is there to protect and help the feat cheese stay at its peak quality.
Feta falls under the perishable food category. USDA lists temperatures 40F to 140F as the danger zone for perishable foods.
That said, you should keep an unopened feta cheese package always refrigerated. Never let it sit out for more than 2 hours to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Once opened, the shelf life of feta cheese drastically shortens.
Keeping blocks and crumbles of feta cheese as they are in the fridge will only last 3-7 days.
The cheese will quickly dry out and crumble even more. Plus, it might grow molds even when in an airtight container.
You should look out for a few signs to determine if your feta cheese is already spoiled.
Here are some signs to look for:
Look out for any discoloration in your cheese. Molds are green, gray, or black spots on the cheese’s surface. Feta cheese is unlike other food items, where you can safely scrape out molds and eat the rest.
Soft cheeses are moist and porous. If you see molds on the surface, there is a great chance it has already spread inside. When that happens, you should throw the entire leftover feta cheese immediately.
Note that feta smells slightly acidic, and that is normal. What you should look out for is a sour smell that is off-putting. If there is a scent you can’t stand, your feta cheese has gone bad.
Take a small portion of feta cheese and feel it between your thumb and index finger. The cheese is past its prime if it feels grainy or crumbles all by itself. More so, if it feels slimy, the feta is already spoiled.
A good way to store opened feta cheese is to place it in an airtight container and keep it in the fridge. As mentioned, the longest feta will stay good stored this way is 7 days.
There are ways to extend this shelf life, which we will discuss in a bit.
One of the biggest factors affecting feta cheese’s shelf life is temperature. As mentioned, keeping the cheese in the fridge is best. This way, you avoid the danger zone. Exposing feta cheese to temperatures higher than 140F encourages the growth of bacteria.
Moisture plays a significant role in the shelf life of feta cheese. After all, this cheese ages with brine. That said, putting the cheese in brine extends its shelf life. Keeping it without brine dries it out and speeds up the spoiling process.
Once you remove the feta from its original packaging, you expose it to air. With air comes microbes and bacteria that can encourage mold growth.
Plus, air can also dehydrate the cheese and dry it out. Lastly, exposure to air promotes oxidation. When cheese oxidizes, it browns and develops a foul odor – all signs of cheese spoilage.
When it comes to cheese, salt does not only contribute to flavor. It also acts as a preservative, extending the shelf life of feta cheese. So, the more salt, the better for the cheese and its shelf life.
But do not discount the effect on flavor. You cannot put too much salt, or the cheese will be inedible because it will be too salty.
To extend the shelf life of feta cheese, it would help to keep it from air exposure. That said, an airtight container is a must. Several layers of plastic wrap will also do the job, along with a Ziploc bag.
Remember that keeping the cheese submerged in brine extends its shelf life. Aside from acting as a preservative, the brine solution protects the cheese from elements that might come into contact with it.
Another option to make feta cheese last is to soak it in olive oil. It is a good way to preserve the cheese without adding saltiness. This way is also perfect for people who watch their sodium intake.
Storing feta cheese brined or soaked in olive in the fridge will significantly extend its shelf life.
Freezing the feta cheese also does wonders for keeping feta cheese fresh. However, you should consider that thawing frozen feta cheese will affect its texture. For this reason, you are better off using thawed feta in cooked dishes.
To properly freeze feta cheese, you should first do a flash-freeze. Arrange blocks or crumbles on a baking sheet. Do this in such a way that they do not touch each other. For feta blocks, drain them first to remove any brine. Pat dry and arrange on a baking sheet.
Put the baking sheet in the freezer and let it stay for 15-20 minutes. Then, toss everything in a freezer bag and freeze.
Frozen feta cheese will stay good for up to 3 months, regardless of its form.
Vacuum-sealing leftover cheese also works if you want to save it for future use. For cheese blocks, vacuum seal feta with just enough brine to keep the blocks covered. Doing so will add only a little salt to the cheese. Never freeze vacuum-sealed feta with its brine.
For crumbled feta cheese, remove as much air as possible and store it in the fridge or freezer.
Feta block can last in the fridge for at least 3 more months beyond its best-by or expiration date. Once you open it and keep it in an airtight container, it can last 3-7 days. But if you submerge the opened feta in brine, you can expect it to stay for 4 weeks at the most. Unopened feta cheese crumbles can last up to a week after the best-by date on the label. Do a thorough examination before consuming the cheese, though. Look out for signs of spoilage.
You’ll know that feta cheese has gone bad if you observe mold growth, discoloration, and a foul smell. If there is a change in texture, that is also another sign of spoilage. Do note that the absence of these signs does not always mean that the feta has not gone bad.
Spoiled feta cheese has a strong smell reminiscent of vinegar and sour cream. Note that feta comes with a slightly acidic scent, so that is not something you should worry about.
So, how long does feta cheese last? The answer is it depends. Unopened feta cheese blocks can last on the fridge for at least 3 months past their label date. Unopened feta crumbles stay good for a week after their use By date.
Leftover feta blocks and crumbles without brine will only stay good for a maximum of seven days. Meanwhile, if you keep feta cheese leftovers in brine sealed in a jar, they can keep for a month. Of course, proper handling and storage will help to extend the shelf life of feta cheese.