It’s a scenario as old as the refrigerator itself: you’re rooting through your fridge and come across a buried item you can’t even remember buying. It’s a block of cream cheese. You scan the package for a date and it’s close to the date! You don’t want to throw it away, but you don’t have an immediate use for it either. Can you freeze it?
The answer is, well, it depends.
Taking some advice from Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park, we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with if we can that we don’t consider whether you should. Cream cheese can be frozen. The extreme cold will in no way render the product harmful or inedible. You can still eat it. You just might not want to.
The reason boils to some simple chemistry. A similar reaction happens in Nutella when you get it too cold. When cream cheese is chilled, the molecules making up the cream cheese undergo a change. Cream cheese is around fifty-percent water. When the water in the cream cheese freezes, it forms ice crystals that separate from the cheese curds. The separation changes the consistency from dense and smooth to gritty and crumbly. This is results in a change in a texture most would consider unpleasant.
Forget about spreading it on your morning bagel. Or spreading it much at all.
The change in texture will make your cream cheese unusable for breakfast purposes. That’s fine, you might say. You’re not much of a morning person anyway. You’d rather bake it into a cheesecake anyway. Surely the frozen cream cheese would be fine in there?
Even after baking, frozen cream cheese will ruin your desert. Its all about the texture. Instead of that delightful creaminess you’re looking for in a cheesecake, using frozen cream cheese is a sure way to make a grainy disaster.
You’re not going to want to freeze and use cream cheese in anything where the texture is going to be maintained and apparent. What is it good for then? If you’re still looking to make something sweet frozen cream cheese is good for use in pound cakes. Its incorporated well enough into the finished product that the grainy texture isn’t noticeable.
Putting it into Practice
We’ve established the ideal uses for frozen cream cheese. How should you go about the actual process of freezing it?
You want to treat it much like any other product you’d freeze for later consumption. If it hasn’t been opened, you can simply place the brick in your freezer. The cardboard and inner foil of the packaging will be enough to keep the cream cheese from the hazards of freezer burn. If that’s not enough security for you, you can always take the package, put it in a freezer bag and remove all the excess air.
If you own a vacuum sealer and are going to use that, you’ll want to take the cream cheese out of its cardboard but leave it in the foil. The foil is the last line of defense against burn that you’re going to want to keep around.
As always, it’s a good practice to label anything you place in the freezer with the date you froze it. You can also mark down the original best by date. These two combined will give you a give reference for the time window in which you can still use the cream cheese. Two months is around the period where cream cheese is good to sit in the freezer.
To thaw your cream cheese, the slow and steady approach is still the best. You’ll need a full twenty-four hours in the refrigerator for it to come back to normal temperature. To speed this process up you can place the cream cheese in a zip lock bag and place the bag in a bowl of warm water. Once it’s thawed fully you can put it into an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week.
Good luck to you on all your cream cheese endeavors!