Can you offer any suggestions for prolonging the shelf life of fresh mozzarella cheese?
In an earlier column, we explored several different options for storing fresh mozzarella, but there are some tricks for making it last longer, too. For starters, you should not reach into the liquid packing solution with unclean hands or gloves—this will contaminate the solution and reduce its shelf life. Additionally, you may have heard that the liquid packing solution should be replaced with water and changed every couple of days with fresh water to prolong the shelf life of the cheese, but this is incorrect. As long as you’ve used clean utensils for reaching into the container and haven’t contaminated the solution with improper handling methods, you should not replace the liquid solution with fresh water—that will deplete the salt levels in the cheese and may cause the cheese to lose some of its flavor and go soft and slimy.
If you suspect that the liquid solution has become contaminated, you can replace it with a fresh mixture of brine solution consisting of 1 tbsp. of salt dissolved in 1 to 4 lb. of 37°F water, depending on the concentration of salt that you desire and its potential effect on the saltiness of the cheese stored in the solution. Stronger brine will do a better job of retarding souring/spoilage, but the cheese will also become saltier as long as it’s stored in the solution. The concentration of the brine will also affect the texture consistency of the cheese over time as the salt interacts with the proteins in the cheese.
Another way to prolong the shelf life of larger pieces of fresh mozzarella is to remove the piece from its liquid packing solution and encase it in plastic wrap, replacing the plastic wrap every time you open it. These large pieces can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored for up to seven days, while smaller pieces, which tend to dry out more easily, need to be stored in brine, whey or water solutions.
While unrefrigerated fresh mozzarella tastes best on the day that it’s made, it also tends to release more whey/water during baking as a pizza topping or in lasagna, as compared to fresh mozzarella that has been refrigerated or frozen before use in baking. On the other hand, refrigerated or frozen mozzarella (and remember, many mozzarella connoisseurs strongly recommend against refrigerating or freezing it) will have a drier mouth-feel when directly eaten, but it won’t release as much whey/water in the baking process. These variations in eating and baking characteristics can be attributed to the proteins in the cheese changing over time.
Finally, studies show that fresh mozzarella that has been refrigerated for a week or longer can be somewhat refreshed to its “first day of production” eating characteristics by soaking it in a warm salted whey or salted milk solution (1 tsp. salt per 1 c. of milk) for about an hour. This process will enhance the direct eating characteristics of the cheese, and it should not be done with cheese that will be used for baking.