For sure, provolone cheese can go bad but it actually has the potential to last much longer than you would probably think.

If you’ve ever kept a package of provolone cheese long enough (or accidentally stored it improperly), you may have noticed that as it begins to spoil the texture hardens, color darkens, and it develops a strong odor.

It is important to know what the fresh provolone smells like, so that you can identify when an odor may indicate spoilage, or if it’s just smelly.

You may have even tasted it, and unfortunately discovered a sour or unpleasant flavor. This is a certain indicator that the cheese has gone bad.

Other visible indicators of spoilage are sliminess or mold growth. Mold itself may or may not mean you should throw it away.

Well, I will explain.

The average “best by” date for provolone cheese

The expiration date is affected by how the cheese processed and packaged.

You may not know…

A typical pound of store-bought, pre-sliced provolone cheese usually consists of anywhere from 16 to 26 slices. A standard slice of cheese is approximately 1 ounce, which would mean there are 16 slices in a pound. Many pre-packaged cheeses that you would find at the store are sliced into smaller portions such as 0.6 or 0.8 ounces per slice.

And the package will include a “best by” or “sell by” date which the cheese will remain fresh/quality guaranteed by the company, but not after the date.

For example, Grande Cheese Company recommends using their sliced provolone within 3 months for best results. Another brand, Sargento, recommends eating their cheeses within 5 days of opening. Most of the brands offers a similar industrial standard period of storage.

But even the date is past, it is usually still safe to eat in many cases.

Let’s dig deeper.

Typical storage times for provolone cheese

So, how long does it take for provolone cheese to actually go bad, and how can you prevent provolone from spoiling for as long as possible?

The length of time that provolone cheese will stay fresh depends on multiple factors. For example see this one I found on Amazon is freshly made into signature ball shape will not last very long once opened.

One of the major factors includes the conditions under which the provolone is stored. Additionally, the form of the cheese (block, sliced, shredded, grated) will affect shelf life, as well as whether a package has been opened or not.

  • Under proper storage conditions, an unopened block of provolone cheese should last in the refrigerator for at least 2 months, or for 2-3 weeks after the “use by” date.
  • An opened block will last for around 3-4 weeks.
  • Unopened slices will stay fresh for about 1 month in the refrigerator, while a package of opened slices will last for about 2 weeks.
  • Unopened shredded or grated provolone can be maintained for approximately 1 week past the expiry date, but once opened will remain fresh up to 1 week.

Normally, provolone can also be stored in the freezer to maintain its shelf life for longer, around 6 to 8 months in any form. This is the length of time that the cheese will remain at its best quality, but it can be safely consumed for longer (ideally, it will remain safe to eat “indefinitely” as long as constantly frozen at 0°F or lower).

In fact, harder cheeses tend to endure freezing well. Besides slight changes in texture and flavor, the nutritional profile of the cheese will largely remain the same.

Smart way properly storing provolone to increase storage time

Although it is recommended to keep provolone refrigerated at or below 40°F at all times in order to maintain the best quality for the greatest length of time, making the effort to put the cheese back in the refrigerator right after each use will pay off in extending its life.

However, in the event you do forget to put it back right away, you should not allow it to sit out at room temperature for more than two hours at a time, as bacteria will grow rapidly as the temperature increases above 40°F.

If left out for more than 2 hours,

the provolone will remain safe to eat as long as it is not covered in mold, but should be stored in a separate, fresh container or wrap.

[Note] Softer cheeses like brie will NOT be safe to eat after sitting out for 2 hours. Harder cheeses have a reduced rate of bacteria growth due to their lower moisture content.

However, cheese that has been left out will still be more likely to grow mold, and bacteria can spread to other food items they touch. To be on the safer side, you may prefer to throw the cheese away anyways after sitting out for a long period of time.

How to store in fridge, the right way

Begin by refraining from opening the package until ready for use. Once opened, you can keep the cheese in its original packaging or place in a tightly closed container.

Make sure to squeeze out any air, and wrap the opened package in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. For additional protection, the package can first be wrapped with wax or parchment paper if desired.

How to freeze a provolone for different cut

Cut into ½ pound or smaller portions and store in either a heavy-duty freezer bag (such as this one on Amazon), aluminum foil, or plastic freezer wrap.

For sliced provolone, keep it in the original packaging if resealable, or you can wrap the slices or put them into a freezer bag. You may want to divide into smaller portions if you have a large number of slices, as they will stick together when frozen.

Shredded or grated cheeses can be frozen in their original packaging. Again, for all scenarios make sure to squeeze out any air and tightly wrap the cheese to prevent oxygen from entering the seal and speeding up the degradation time.

The cheese should be put into the freezer before the time frame for refrigerator freshness is over.

It should be noted that storing provolone in the freezer will likely alter the texture to become crumblier and less flavorful, therefore once thawed it is best used in cooked dishes. Because of this, the cheese should be shredded or grated prior to freezing if needed, as the change in texture can make this more difficult. To thaw provolone that has been frozen, preferably defrost it in the refrigerator and use within 3 to 4 days. It can also be defrosted under cold running water or in the microwave, but must be used right away. When prepared in a dish, the cheese will generally stay good as long as the soonest expiring ingredient.

Other factors to consider

Other factors may affect the shelf life of a cheese include normal fluctuation of refrigerator and freezer temperature, as well as the climate and humidity level where the cheese is stored.

The recommended refrigerator temperature is 37°F, while the freezer should be at 0°F.

However, even if the temperature is set correctly and your appliances are working properly, these temperatures may fluctuate a few degrees throughout the course of a day. These fluctuations are normal, and may be caused by the defrost cycle or the amount of time the refrigerator or freezer door spends open.

Additionally, increased humidity levels will promote mold growth. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that humidity levels are maintained below 40% when possible to decrease this risk.

Mold on cheese – safe or not?

Mold is a type of spore-producing fungus that grows well in a warm, moist environment. In general, when it comes to food, mold growth indicates spoilage and that the food once should be discarded.

However, many different types of mold can grow on cheese, some being harmless while others are not. Molds seen on the surface of food are usually fuzzy with colors of white, black, green, blue, or grey.

They may also produce a sour/strong odor.

The bright side of mold

Certain types of molds can actually be used in the cheese making process, and are completely safe to consume. For example, Penicillium roqueforti and Penicillium camemberti are commonly used (1)

See and compare 110+ types of cheeses here.

Their role is in producing unique textures and flavors by inducing chemical changes in the milk during cheese production.

Examples of mold-grown cheeses include blue cheeses like gorgonzola and soft-ripened cheeses like brie. On these types of cheeses, the mold is responsible for the blue veins or thick, white outer rind.

While these molds are safe to eat, the fuzzy growth that normally appears on provolone and other cheeses may not be.

Molds: Hard cheese vs Semi-hard cheese

Provolone is a semi-hard cheese, which has been cooked, pressed, and aged for a short period of time. Hard cheeses, like parmesan, have been aged longer and contain less moisture content.

Because it is more difficult for bacteria to grow in drier environments, it is less likely that hard cheeses will grow mold and they can maintain a longer shelf life.

Thus, provolone molds faster than other varieties of hard cheeses, but slower than soft cheeses. 

Don’t throw away just yet…

Fortunately, on harder cheeses such as provolone, mold growth may not mean you have to throw away the entire block. If a block of provolone cheese grows mold in a defined area, it is generally still safe to eat because the spores typically do not penetrate far past the surface.

What you can do instead,

cut 1 inch around the mold on all sides, without touching the mold with the knife, then wrap the cheese with fresh materials. Wrap the moldy portion securely before discarding.

Be noted that pregnant women should avoid doing so.

You should use the cheese as soon as possible or place it into the freezer. On the other hand, if mold growth occurs within a package of shredded, sliced, or crumbled provolone, or another softer form of cheese, the package should be discarded as the mold is better able to spread throughout.

It will make you sick!

Consuming mold can result in a variety of foodborne illnesses such as E. coli, Listeria, or Salmonella (2).

When food poisoning occurs, the most common symptoms experienced include stomach pain, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. Severe cases can even lead to death, but this is rare.

Certain molds can also produce mycotoxins, which are poisonous substances that can cause illness when consumed.

This is why it is important to properly store cheese and other foods and make sure to examine them for mold and other signs of spoilage, and correctly handle these foods. A clean, dry, and airtight environment will decrease the opportunity for mold and lengthen time to spoilage.

Read more: Should you eat provolone for Ketogenic diet?