Provolone cheese is an aged Italian pasta filata originating from Campania near Vesuvius. It is commonly used as a table cheese and sandwich filling, but can also be used for baked pasta dishes.
So, what do you do when you go to pick out your provolone to make your favorite pasta dish or sandwich, only to find mold growing on it?
Can you still eat the cheese? Can the mold that’s growing make you sick, cut you cut off the moldy parts, and eat the rest, and how can you stop this from happening again?
In this article, we will be answering all these questions and more, so, for all you need to know about mold growth on provolone cheese, keep reading.
Why does provolone cheese get moldy?
Poor storage is the main reason that provolone cheese will begin to grow mold. High moisture levels from humid environments, incorrect storage temperatures and practices, and cross-contamination will all allow mold to spread and grow much more quickly.
Provolone cheese has the fats, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates that mold requires for a source of nourishment, its spores can settle on the cheese, start a colony, and then release enzymes to break the cheese down. It then absorbs the nutrients held within it, in much the same manner as humans digest food to gain the nutrients within.
Another component mold needs is moisture for hydration. And refrigerators can be high-humidity environments that give mold all the moisture it needs. In fact, a humidity level over 55% is more than adequate for mold growth, and most fridges have an ambient humidity level of between 30-50%, so even a small increase in humidity (from warm leftover foods for example), can provide adequate moisture.
When mold is subjected to low temperatures (such as within a refrigerator), it does not die, it simply goes into a state of hibernation until the temperature rises to a point where it can spread rapidly once more. Provolone cheese should be stored in a refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less to keep it fresh, and even small fluctuations in temperature can allow mold to speed up its growth.
What kind of mold grows on provolone?
The most common types of mold found growing on provolone cheese are penicillium and Mucor genera.
Penicillium is a common strain of mold found growing on decaying organic fruits and vegetables as well as within compost and wood. Cross-contamination is the most likely cause of this strain affecting provolone cheese, as its spores are airborne and can pass from one food item to another.
Mucor genera strain breed in similar circumstances to penicillium, with the exception that it is also commonly found within animal dung. Contamination during the milking process could account for this strain being present on or within provolone cheese, and despite the pasteurization process killing many strains of mold, some may remain.
Can eating moldy provolone cheese make you sick?
Yes, eating mold of any kind can cause health complaints in healthy individuals and those with suppressed immune systems and allergies.
Healthy individuals may suffer from little to no health complaints if the amount of mold ingested or inhaled was very small, but for individuals with allergies or suppressed immune systems, the following symptoms could be seen:
- Skin irritation
- Brain fog
It is important to note that even healthy individuals can suffer from similar complaints to those outlined above, so eating moldy provolone is never advised. It is also common for harmful bacteria such as E. coli to form at the same time as mold. Should either of these be ingested even in small amounts (such as with E. coli), food poisoning and other symptoms could occur.
Can you cut off the mold from the provolone and eat the rest?
Because provolone is a hard cheese, its roots or “threads”, find it difficult to penetrate deeper down into the cheese. Because of this, it is often said that you can cut away the moldy parts and eat the rest, however, this is not advisable.
Even small amounts of mold can produce spores, and when disturbed, these spores will be released and can settle on other parts of the cheese to begin a new colony. It can be very difficult to ensure you have cut away all of the mold, as some may not be visible to the naked eye.
As some people can be allergic to even small amounts of mold, it is recommended that if you do find it growing on the cheese, it is best to discard it.
What does mold on provolone look like?
The most commonly found strains on provolone (penicillium and Mucor genera) have similar growth patterns.
Both begin as small patches of white growth that over time may turn blue, green, gray, yellow, or even pink, with a texture that is often described as being powdery, cotton, or velvet-like. Within the first few hours of settling on provolone cheese, the mold’s spores will not be visible to the naked eye, nor will its initial growth.
Only after several days (potentially hours in very warm and humid environments) will visible patches of mold be seen. These patches form in irregular, somewhat circular shapes, and will quickly spread over the cheese in a matter of days.
How to prevent mold on provolone
Mold can spoil the taste and texture of provolone cheese, as well as cause health complaints if eaten, due to this, it is best to practice the following steps to prolong the life of the cheese and keep it fresh for as long as possible.
Wrap the cheese in parchment paper
Moisture is one of the main components mold needs to thrive, so reducing the amount available helps to slow its growth considerably.
After opening the packet the cheese came in, wrap any leftovers in parchment paper. The paper will allow the cheese to breathe, which helps to retain its taste and texture, whilst absorbing excess moisture, keeping the humidity level below the optimal range for mold growth.
Store in an airtight container
Mold is a living organism, and therefore requires oxygen. By placing your parchment-wrapped cheese in an airtight container in the refrigerator, you are denying it one of its key components.
It also has the benefit of preventing cross-contamination from other items which may have grown mold in your fridge, prevents smells and taste from being absorbed, and helps to maintain the temperature it is being stored at from fluctuations when the fridge door is opened and closed.
Check the temperature it’s being stored at
Provolone cheese should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to remain at its most fresh. This temperature also slows the rate of mold and bacteria growth.
Check the temperature your fridge thermostat is set to ensure it is at this temperature, and if you are unsure if your fridge is maintaining this temperature, place a thermometer on one of the shelves.
Check the expiration date
Hard cheeses like provolone have a much longer shelf life due to their low water content, however, they will still have a use-by date or expiration date printed on the packaging it was purchased in.
Make sure that you are only buying the amount of cheese you think you will be able to use within this timeframe, as the cheese is more likely to begin to grow mold and become rancid after this date has passed.
Should you find yourself with more provolone cheese than you can consume before its expiration date, you have the option of freezing it.
Freezing the cheese will put any mold spores and bacteria into a state of hibernation and will slow any growth.
To maintain its freshness, wrap the cheese in a layer of parchment paper, then in an additional layer of either plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
The cheese may lose some of its potency and it may become more crumbly, however, these flaws are barely noticeable when the cheese is melted.
Store the cheese in the bottom of the fridge, towards the back
Temperature ranges within a fridge can differ, with the warmest part being the top shelves, and the coldest and driest part being towards the bottom.
To avoid temperature fluctuations whilst storing provolone cheese in the fridge, place it towards the back of the fridge and on one of the bottom shelves.
If you have one, placing the cheese in a salad crisper drawer will additionally protect it from temperature fluctuations whenever the door is opened or closed.
What are the yellow spots on provolone?
Yellow spots on provolone cheese may be an indication of bacteria growth. Coryneforms are a type of bacteria that are commonly found on washed rind cheeses, as they are an important part of creating the texture and flavor profiles of the cheese. If excessive levels of these bacteria begin to grow, the cheese will develop a slimy and unpleasant taste and smell.
What is the white powder on provolone?
The most likely cause of white powder on provolone cheese is calcium lactate. These are a buildup of small calcium lactate that is very common in aged cheeses. The crystals are perfectly safe to eat and are a sign of a well-aged cheese.
What is the pink on provolone cheese?
A pink hue on the cheese or its rind can often be attributed to chemical changes in the cheese constituents or a microbial starter bacteria called Thermus thermophilus. The cheese turning pink does not make it inedible, but cheese makers often consider this to be a defect.
How long does provolone last?
Sliced provolone cheese can last between 2-3 weeks and frozen provolone will remain safe to eat for up to 8 months. An unopened fresh block, however, will last up to 2 months if kept in the refrigerator.
Provolone cheese has a longer shelf life due to its low water content, but mold can still develop. Incorrectly storing the cheese is the greatest cause of mold and bacteria buildup, and eating the cheese with mold present is not recommended, as it can cause potentially serious symptoms. Wrapping the cheese in parchment paper and placing it in an airtight container at the bottom of the fridge is the best way to preserve the cheese.