When mold appears on food, it typically means that you should throw it out. However, that may not always be the case with cheese. While I don’t want to recommend cheese at all because it tends to inhibit the progress of an anti-fungal diet, it’s better that we stay informed on what’s safe if you do choose to indulge from time to time. So, can you eat moldy cheese or not? The answer may surprise you.
By some estimates, more than 1,800 different types of cheese are crafted throughout the world—and there are almost as many ways of classifying them.
Cheese can be classified by:
• Milk: The different types of milk—from cows, goats, sheep, or buffalo, or even varying combinations of each—are what truly distinguish one cheese from another.
• Country or region: Many different types of cheese are named after—or associated with—the place they first originated from. Parmesan cheese, for example, was derived from the area around Parma, Italy. Gouda was first traded in the Dutch town of Gouda. The original moldy cheese—Roquefort—is said to be a happy accident in the Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Cheddar cheese originated in the English village of Cheddar in Somerset. And in the United States, Colby was developed in Colby, Wisconsin.
• Age: Fresh cheese is intended to be eaten right away while other cheeses may be aged from a few months to even a few years or more. Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese, for example, while some cheddars have been allowed to age for up to 15 years. There is rumor that some cheeses aging between 15 and 40 years have been sold to the public at a staggering price, but this is not at all a typical or advised period of aging.
• Texture: Cheese is often categorized by its texture, from soft to semi-soft and semi-firm to hard. Generally, the longer a cheese is aged, the lower its moisture content and the harder it becomes. (We will revisit this point shortly—as cheese texture plays an important role in determining whether or not a moldy cheese is safe to eat.)
• Flavor: Cheese is often described as having flavors that run from mild to extra sharp. Mild cheeses tend to be younger cheeses, while sharper cheeses tend to be aged cheeses or cheeses with mold or bacteria cultures introduced during the cheesecrafting process.
• Preparation: Many young cheeses are unripened. This means they have no additional added cultures. Mold-ripened cheese like blue cheese or washed-rind cheeses (like limburger) have different mold or bacteria cultures introduced during the crafting process that helps develop stronger flavor. For example, pasta filata cheeses are stretched to produce a stringy, chewy texture (like mozzarella).
Cheesemaking and Mold
On several occasions, I’ve heard people state how they believe cheese is made. You’d think we would know what we’re eating, but the truth is that many of us have been told it’s just aged or that cheese is just moldy milk. Cheesemaking is much more nuanced than that.
Depending on the type of cheese, there are many different techniques involved in cheesemaking.
To be classified as a soft cheese, the moisture content must be higher than 50%. Typically, this means that the cheese will be super soft and spreadable. However, in a few cases, a soft cheese will be sliceable but still considered soft because of its high moisture content. These cheeses are known as semi-soft cheeses and, though they may come in block, sliced, or shredded form, they are not considered hard cheeses.
Some soft cheeses are made to be eaten almost immediately. They do not go through a typical aging process. Some are not aged at all and others have a short aging process of just two weeks. Cottage cheese, brie, cream cheese, mozzarella, feta, and ricotta are all examples of the freshest and quickest soft cheeses.
The first step to crafting a soft cheese—or any cheese at all—is to select the right milk. Animal milks—as opposed to vegan nut, oat, and soybean milks—are the original and most preferred base for cheesemaking. Animal milks such as cow milk, goat milk, sheep milk, and water buffalo milk have the best casein (a complete protein within the milk) that curdles well. Other types of mammalian milk don’t hold up well to the curdling process. This is why, for instance, you’ve probably never heard anyone praise the merits of horse or camel cheese.
After a milk is selected—for some cheeses, more than one type of milk is used—the milk is slightly heated. Depending on the type of soft cheese being crafted, a powdered starter culture, a bacteria, and/or an acid coagulant (lemon juice, vinegars, or critic acid) is added to the heated milk.
Once curds begin to form, the pot is drained and a technique of either cheesecloth straining or some other method of pressing is used. That said, the moisture must be kept above 50%, so the goal is not to entirely strain the curds. The amount of moisture reduction and the ingredients determine the type of soft cheese. For example, if ricotta is the goal, the just-drained whey will be re-curdled and used. For cream cheese, the curds are blended.
Some of the more popular soft cheeses (according to Ranker):
• Goat Cheeses
• Gorgonzola (a deliberately moldy cheese)
• Cream Cheeses
• Cottage Cheeses
• And so much more…
In order to be classified as a hard cheese, the moisture content of a cheese must be lower than 50%. Anything higher than 50% will constitute a soft cheese.
All hard cheeses begin as soft cheeses—and it isn’t just time spent in the aging process that turns them from a soft cheese to a hard cheese. A hard cheese is achieved by the same process as a soft cheese, at first, but there are two very particular steps added.
Adding enzymes/acid: Rennet—an enzyme that acts as a coagulant—is incorporated into the original mixture of milk and cultures to separate the liquid whey from the coagulating curds, which reduces the moisture content of the curds.
Pressing: Then, once the cheese is curdled, those curds are pressed until the remaining liquid whey separates even more. Depending on the type of cheese the cheesemaker is determined to create, they may need to reduce the moisture content even further which would involve heating and continually slicing the curds into tiny chunks using sterile, sharp blades to assist the separation of solids and liquids before. Once it is sliced enough, the liquid whey can be drained more thoroughly. This is what reduces the moisture content from what would be considered a soft cheese to that of a hard cheese.
The remaining curds are then pressed into a mold and set aside for the aging process, which could take anywhere from a few months to several years, depending on the type of cheese. The aging process also reduces the moisture content.
At some point in the aging process of hard cheeses intended to be infused with mold, metal rods are inserted all-throughout and then removed, leaving behind air channels through which a penicillium mold is introduced so that it can proliferate and spread throughout the cheese, creating one of the many hard, moldy cheese types once the aging process is complete. And, if you’re wondering if intentionally mold-infused cheeses should be eaten on an anti-fungal diet, the answer is “no.”
Once aging is complete for whatever type of hard cheese it is, the taste will be sharp and the texture will be dense.
Some of the more popular hard cheeses (according to Ranker):
• Colby Jack
• Pecorino Romano
• And so much more…
Please note: Many cheeses can be both a soft cheese or a hard cheese under the same name, but the flavor will be either more mild or more intense depending on the length of time spent in the aging process and the level of moisture remaining. This is why you might have noticed that some cheese—like cheddar—at the store will be marked as “aged cheddar” while there is a semi-softer version already pre-sliced, shredded, or in a flexible block. It’s the same cheese, but its moisture level and age is much different. True hard cheeses are just that—literally hard to the touch.
Can You Eat Moldy Cheese?
Now that you know the differences between soft cheeses and hard cheeses, let’s dive right into the dilemma. You have a type of cheese in your home and mold has grown on it. You are wondering if it’s salvageable and safe to eat. Or, perhaps you’ve already eaten a little and you’re wondering how long you have to live.
First of all, if you already ate it, don’t panic. Unless you are deathly allergic to most penicillium molds (the type of blue, gray, white, or even green mold on cheese that also grows on all foods kept relatively sealed in the refrigerator), then the most severe symptoms you’re likely to develop will be related to uncomfortable bathroom visits.
Secondly, you need to determine which type of cheese it is. Is it soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, or hard?
Soft to Semi-Soft Moldy Cheese Types
Cheeses with a high moisture content are 100% conducive to the fast growth of mold, which means that your moldy cheese, whether creamed or curdy, may have a deep, fully-developed, spore-producing colony of mold just waiting to be spread across your bagel. It’s the significant moisture and the ease by which the mold can spread throughout the softness of the cheese that renders it completely unsalvageable and inedible. While you may think it is safe to scrape off the top of the soft cheese–where the mold has visible color—know this: the roots of mold are colorless, spongy tendrils (often invisible to the naked eye) that channel deep into soft cheeses. In other words, scraping the top will do you no good. It’s time to toss it out. Even non-spreadable, semi-soft cheeses are not safe once mold has developed.
Hard to Semi-Hard Moldy Cheese Types
Cheeses with a low moisture content are more difficult for mold to infiltrate but they can develop mold nonetheless. Unlike soft cheeses, however, the roots of the mold have a harder time penetrating the depths of the cheese. So, to answer the question of the day: “Can you eat moldy cheese?” The answer is: yes. You can slice off the offensive moldy bits and consume the rest. (Consider cutting off about a half-inch or more, just to be safe.)
That said, please keep an eye out for the rarer mold growths, such as black mold. As stated, it is extremely rare for a toxic mold to grow on sealed and refrigerated cheese (unless you have significant toxic mold growth within your home already), but if a very dark green or black mold is growing on your hard cheese, throw the whole thing out. Toxic mold—otherwise known as black mold—is a very dark green or black-looking mold that is extremely hardy, which means that the low moisture content of the hard cheese that would normally thwart off the growth of most molds will not deter black mold at all.
So, if you’re asking the following questions—
“What happens if you eat moldy mozzarella cheese?” Don’t. But, if you do, you’ll live—you just might experience some diarrhea. If you have a preexisting fungal infection, you could experience slightly more exacerbated symptoms for a short period of time—a flare up.
“Can you eat mold on cheddar cheese?” Yes, but only if it is hard, aged cheddar. Otherwise, throw it out.
So, can you eat moldy cheese? Let’s recap.
• The denser (harder and more compacted) the cheese is, the more salvageable it is. Meaning: you can slice off the mold-infected portion and eat the rest.
• The softer the cheese, the more extended the mold growth will be, which means your moldy cheese eating adventure has come to an end and you must throw all of the cheese out.
• Blue, gray, white, and light green molds on hard cheeses are the least worrisome. Black or dark green molds are the most worrisome and the cheese should be thrown out.
Lastly, I feel compelled to remind you that if you are suffering from mold sickness or a fungal infection, such as Candida albicans, you shouldn’t be consuming cheeses at all (perhaps only the goat cheeses linked here). If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out Crush Candida’s article on the dangers of dairy consumption for those needing to stick to an anti-fungal diet.
Have you ever eaten moldy cheese and had a bad reaction? What happened? If you suffer from Candida, has the consumption of cheese seemed to worsen your symptoms? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. Any testimony or advice you share with our readers could truly change their lives for the better.