Freezing Provolone Cheese: Should You?

Last Updated on January 17, 2024 by Aaron

Provolone, an Italian semi-hard cheese, enjoys popularity across the globe due to its mellow taste and versatility in cooking.

A common query arising from those keen to minimize food wastage and prolong shelf life is: Can you freeze provolone cheese? The simple answer is yes — but with provisos.

Below we will navigate through the complexities of freezing provolone cheese, alongside different forms of provolone such as slices, blocks, and shredded cheese.

Freezing Provolone Cheese: Can Work?

When it comes to freezing cheese, it has a lot to do with its moisture content. The process of water turning into ice crystals and back to water when defrosting can damage the structure, and therefore the quality of the cheese.

Generally, the lower the moisture content in cheese, the lesser (and smaller) the ice crystals formation, and the better for the freeze-thaw process with minimal damage to texture and flavor.

That’s to say, our regular provolone cheese is a semi-hard cheese with around ~45% moisture content, which is better for freezing compared to mozzarella (52-60% moisture), but not as great as some of the hard cheeses like cheddar and parmesan (30-32% moisture).

It means the sharp or extra-sharp provolone which aged for an extended period (12 months up) will tend to freeze better than mild provolone Dolce (2~3 months).

Furthermore, the high fat content in provolone cheese (at about 28%) adds good elasticity in freezing and can resist structural changes better than some of the low-fat cheeses.

When freezing vacuum-packed provolone, you may want to consider these. Vacuum packing of pre-cut provolone can cause the cheese matrix to collapse thus reducing “eyes” formation and negatively impact on the appearance (1). Additionally, the formation of ice crystals on the surface may cause the leakage of vacuum packaging material.

While freezing can alter the texture and flavor of cheese due to moisture crystallization, it doesn’t significantly impact the nutritional value.

However, freezing may sometimes give you some bitterness or off-taste. That’s because of the proteolysis and oxidation of lipid chains, but it is safe to eat.

Freezing for different types of provolone

Provolone cheese comes in two primary varieties: Provolone Dolce and Provolone Piccante. Provolone Dolce is younger (usually 2-3 months) with a milder taste; Provolone Piccante is older (6 months above) and has a robust flavor.

Both can be frozen, but due to the additional moisture in Provolone Dolce, freezing may lead to slightly higher texture changes upon thawing compared to Provolone Piccante. Yet, these differences are generally minor and often imperceptible in cooked dishes.

Also, it can depend on the moisture content of the provolone brand and the variety that you purchased.

The Process of Freezing Provolone: Step-by-Step

The freezing method varies slightly, whether your provolone comes in wheel, block, sliced, or shredded forms.

For example, the typical shape of a pear or salami for traditional Italian provolone, or the truncated wheel style for domestic provolone, or the store-bought sliced provolone.

Large Chuck and Block Provolone: Freezing larger quantities of provolone is quite simple. You can keep it in the orginal packaging or tightly wrap the cheese in plastic wrap, eliminating any air pockets which might lead to freezer burn. You could then put it in a freezer-safe bag, extracting as much air as possible before sealing it. The cheese will be good for a few months at least.

Instead of freezing a large block, it’s better to cube or shred your provolone into smaller pieces first for convenience later, and it’ll help reducing wastage.

On top of that, large portion will usually freeze slower thus forming larger ice crystals, which will do more damage to the structure when thawed. We want to freeze fast and thaw slow.

Sliced and Shredded Provolone: The easy way is to put the orginal bag or packaging directly into the freezer. Alternatively, you can try to flash freeze (also blast or shock freeze) the provolone cheese. It can prevent the pieces from sticking together and also to reduce the tiny ice crystals formation inside the cheese.

It can be done by pre-freezing the provolone on an open tray before transferring it to a sealed bag or container for long-term storage. Here’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to do it:

Step 1: Prepping the Cheese: For slices or shredded provolone, spread them out evenly on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, making sure they aren’t overlapping. For blocks or chunks, cut the cheese into manageable sizes, ensuring each piece is uniformly thick.

Step 2: Pre-Freezing: Place the tray in the freezer, ensuring it lies flat. The goal is to freeze the pieces quickly and individually, so they don’t stick together later. This stage usually takes about an hour or so, but it could vary depending on your freezer. If you have a blast freezer at home, you can use it or get this one here via Amazon.

Step 3: Packaging for Long-Term Freezing: Once the cheese pieces are frozen, quickly transfer them into a freezer-safe bag or container. If using a bag, press out as much air as possible before sealing it. If using a container, ensure it’s airtight. The key here is to minimize exposure to air, which can lead to freezer burn over time.

Step 4: Label and Freeze: Lastly, label your package with the date and contents, then place it in the freezer for long-term storage. This way, you won’t forget what’s in there or when you froze it.

This method could be up to six months for best results.

Defrosting Provolone Cheese

The optimal method for defrosting provolone cheese, be it sliced, shredded, or in block form, is in the refrigerator. This technique allows for slow, even, controlled thawing that helps to maintain the integrity of the cheese.

To defrost in the refrigerator, simply move the package of frozen provolone cheese from the freezer to the refrigerator.

The slow thaw can take several hours, or even overnight, depending on the size of the cheese. This requires planning ahead to make sure your cheese is ready when you need it.

If possible, keep the provolone cheese in its original freeze packaging during the defrosting process. This helps maintain the cheese’s moisture, reducing the risk of it drying out and becoming hard or crumbly.

If you used a vacuum-sealed bag or a tightly-sealed container to freeze the cheese, you could keep it the same during thawing. If the cheese was frozen in an open container or bag, consider transferring it to a sealed container or plastic bag for the defrosting process.

Once fully thawed, provolone cheese should ideally be used within three to five days.

Remember, the texture might be slightly different after thawing – it might be a little crumblier or softer, but it is still perfect to use in cooking. The change in texture generally does not affect the flavor of the cheese.

Avoid thawing provolone cheese at room temperature. This is because the outer layers of the cheese could reach a temperature above 40°F while the center is still thawing. These are temperatures at which bacteria can multiply rapidly, leading to food safety issues.

Re-freezing: Can Freeze Again?

Refreezing previously frozen food often comes with apprehensions, as people fear quality degradation or safety issues.

Refreezing food, including provolone cheese, is safe as long as it was defrosted in the refrigerator and not sit out at room temperature or simply on the counter.

However, a caveat exists – each freeze-thaw cycle can progressively degrade its texture and taste, so it’s advisable to only freeze and refreeze in small, usable quantities to minimize such cycles.

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