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Food Choices: Maximizing Milk's Mileage - July 24, 2012
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reaching into the fridgeMilk is easy: one sniff, and you know it’s expired. Other dairy products, though, are less cut-and-dry. Do I need to toss out my whole block of pepperjack for one spot of blue fuzz? When should I start worrying about my cottage cheese? And what, exactly, does bad butter taste like?

This uncertainty leads to food waste, either because we buy too much — not realizing how quickly it will spoil — or because we throw away food before its time. Waste is a huge problem for our climate, so knowing how to store dairy products is an easy and valuable tool in our efforts against global weirding.

Luckily, the folks at The Oregonian’s FOODday ran a piece a while back that demystifies the ins-and-outs of milk product spoilage. Apart from some common-sense guidelines about keeping dairy (your refrigerator should be at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit; don’t let milk items warm before storing them), they have an excellent array of tips for products where the ‘sniff test’ doesn’t cut it. Check out the article for the full list, but here are a few handy rules of thumb:

  • Mold: If you see mold on your sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, cream cheese, or any variety of soft cheese, discard immediately — mold spreads quickly through these products. If fuzzy spots appear on a hard cheese (such as cheddar), it’s okay to just cut off the affected area. (If the color or texture of the cheese looks off, though, that means the mold has worked its way through the whole block and it’s time  for the city's green compost  bin.)
  • Keep time: Cottage cheese will keep around 5 days, cream 1 week, yogurt 1-2 weeks, and sour cream 2-3 weeks.
  • Freezing is an excellent option for butter, buttermilk, cream, whipped cream cheese, and yogurt. Brick cream cheese, cottage cheese, and firm cheeses can be frozen, too, but their textures might be slightly altered by the cold. Soft cream cheese and sour cream should not be frozen.
  • Taste test: Spoiled buttermilk might taste bitter. Spoiled yogurt might taste yeasty. Spoiled butter might taste strong or rancid.

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