Here's How Long Cheese Can Safely Sit Out On The Countertop

If you have ever hosted a get-together, you know how helpful having a cheese board is. Aside from gathering guests together as they wait for the main course to be served, it also gives them something easy to nibble on while they continue their conversations after a meal. Since these gatherings can last for hours, it's fair to wonder how long your cheese board can safely sit out in the open. After all, we are frequently advised to never leave perishable food items out for more than two hours. That two-hour rule also applies to letting most cheeses sit out on the counter at room temperature.

As Sarah Hill of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board advised to U.S. Dairy, soft, fresh, and unripened cheeses must be disposed of after sitting out for two hours. Meanwhile, according to the USDA, hard cheeses, which have a moisture content that's only 35% to 40%, can be left unrefrigerated and remain safe for consumption, provided that the temperature stays steady at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Hard cheeses produced from pasteurized milk in the U.S. are also less acidic, which helps inhibit bacterial growth. It's different for soft and fresh cheeses, though. Since their high moisture content leaves them vulnerable to molds, they must be refrigerated. A study published in the Asian-Australasian Journal of Animal Sciences reports that cheese consumption-related food-borne illnesses have been generally linked to these types of cheese.

Cheese-making has long been a method of preserving milk

References to cheese can be found in ancient texts ranging from the writings of notable Greek scholars to the Bible's Old Testament. Archeological digs have also unearthed signs of cheese-making that date back to 6,000 BC — further proof that human civilization has been relying on cheese-making to preserve and process milk before any technology for cold storage became possible.

Although refrigeration isn't required for hard cheeses, it definitely helps them last longer, especially when you buy them in big blocks that will last you for months. If kept unopened, the USDA says they can be stored in the fridge for 6 months. Once their packaging is breached, their storage time gets cut down to three to four weeks; the same amount of time also applies to shredded hard cheese. Expect the quality of your hard cheeses to decrease throughout its storage period, though, since the refrigerator will also dry them out. If you want to preserve their texture, it would be better to wrap them in parchment paper and then store them in a cool, dark area instead. If you'll be serving refrigerated hard cheese at your next gathering, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out first for 20 to 30 minutes until it reaches room temperature so its flavor comes out.

As for soft and fresh cheeses, keep them in the fridge for a week at most. Cream cheese stays good while refrigerated for up to two weeks.