Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Canning Dairy - Soft Cheeses, Hard Cheeses & Butter

NOTE:  Canning dairy products are NOT recommended by your local extension office or the FDA.  The following information is not intended to direct you in your canning activities, only to share with you what I have learned in my home kitchen.  Please check with you local extension office before proceeding.

I have been experimenting in my home for the last number of years canning rather non-conventional products.  My general philosophy is "If you can purchase it canned, why shouldn't you be able to can it at home?".  I understand that there are many that would argue with this rational, however, that is not the point of this post.

I began canning dairy products with the canning of butter.  I was thrilled as I watched the jars of butter fill my kitchen shelves and I anticipated having butter available long after the grid went down.  It was a honeymoon - for about 6 months.  Once opened, the butter had a slightly different texture (grainy, like melted and re-solidified butter) but the flavor was sweet and perfect.  I used the canned butter for spreading on toast and frying potatoes.  It went into pie crusts and muffins.  Gradually, I began to notice that the flavor of the butter changed.  It became stronger and stronger and after being on the shelf for about 8 months, was most definitely rancid.

After conducting my failed canning experiment, I started thinking of other ways to preserve butter, at least semi-long term.  As I was mulling the problem around in my head, I thought of Almanzo's mom (In the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, "Farmer Boy") who kept sweet cream butter in her cellar for long periods of time to sell to the city folk.  Her butter was highly sought after because of its sweetness and in fact brought in more money than Almanzo's father's potato crop.  The secret to her success was achieved by completely pressing the buttermilk out of her butter (the buttermilk causes the butter to "turn") and packing it tightly in tubs and storing them in her cool cellar.  It only made sense, with our modernly produced butter, that we should be able to keep butter for long periods of time as long as they were stored at a relatively cool temperature and away from sunlight.  And so, my parents humored me.  They have a wonderful root cellar (we affectionately call it "The Bat Cave") and they agreed to stash some butter in it to be retrieved and tested for freshness at a later date.

Six months went by (the date my canned butter had started to turn) and they tried a stick of butter.  Perfect!  Just as when they had put it into the Bat Cave.  Another three months went by and they tried another cube of butter.  Again, just as sweet as the day it had been stored.

The Bat Cave is not a freezer.  The average temperatures hover around 40°F in the winter and 50°F in the summer.  It is dry and cool and apparently perfect for storing butter.

Verdict:  Don't can butter, put it in your "Bat Cave".

O.K., so I just had to try it!  I came into possession of a 40# box of cream cheese and I have no freezer.  What's a girl to do?  So I canned it.  It canned up beautifully - fluffy and white, and once opened, it was ready to use.  No waiting for the cream cheese to soften or dealing with the weird texture of frozen cream cheese, just smooth, perfect cream cheese. I was elated.  I used the cheese for black-bottomed muffins, Devonshire cream and myriad other goodies.  But, just as the butter slowly went bad, the cream cheese followed suit.  After about 4 months on the shelf, the cream cheese was too strong to use.  After 6 months, it was rancid.

Verdict:  Don't can soft cheeses.

We love cheese - and we love to make cheese, however, we do not currently have a cow.  In light of that fact, I wanted to come up with a way to store cheese that was convenient and non-electric.  Now, being a bit of a cheesemaker myself, I know that it is quite possible to re-wax commercially produced cheese.  That being said, I also know that the best location to store waxed cheese is in a cheese cellar (a much cooler location than my kitchen shelves) and not having one of those handy, I thought I better look for an alternative solution.  Once again, I turned to my canner.

The cheese canned up quite nicely and once I ran a knife around the inside of the jar, slid out of the canning jar with no problems.  Surprisingly, it cut really well.  I was expecting it to crumble, like it does when it has been frozen, but the slices were perfect.

So, here's the skinny on canning hard cheeses.  It becomes sharper the longer it is in the jar (ages).  If you are planning on canning your cheese, buy mild.  Also, I much prefer to buy the loaves of cheese and grate it myself.  The additives they use to keep the cheese from clumping back together changes the consistency of the hardened cheese.

After having canned hard cheese (both cheddar and Mozarella) on the shelves for over a year, I can tentatively say that canning hard cheese is a success.  We have used our cheese for everything from eating with crackers and cold cuts, to topping pizza and using in macaroni and cheese.  Other than a slight change in consistency when melted, the cheese is fabulous.  As I said, it does age slowly as it sits on the shelf, but other than that, it is just great cheese.

Verdict:  Can hard cheese.

And there you have it - all of my dairy canning experience in a nut shell.  It has been a live and learn experience, but I know now what is worthwhile to can and what is a waste of time and money.

NOTE:  When you see a word that is a different color in the middle of a paragraph, that is a hyper-link.  Just click on the word and it will take you directly to the recipe or article.


  1. Have you tried waxing and storing cheeses as well? I came across this site a bit ago, and am thoroughly intrigued, but not quite ready to take that plunge yet.

  2. I can cheddar & jack cheese by the method you suggest - works well.
    I also buy blocks of cheddar cheese, cut them into smaller chunks that fit into wide mouth quart mason jars, fill the jars with corn oil, and cover the jars with a screw-on plastic lids. The cheese sinks in the oil. After 7 months on the pantry shelf at 60 - 70 deg F this cheese is still hard and tastes great. I also buy cheddar and jack in 2 pound plastic wrapped blocks and store them in their original plastic wrap with no addition wrapping. These are stored on the same pantry shelf. Still tasty and no mold after 3 months.Tubs of Smart Balance buttery spread store well for at least 2 months on the same pantry shelf.

    Hangtown Frank

    1. Hangtown as in Placerville? My former hometown. Hangtown Frank is better than Hangtown Fry though.

    2. Yes. My bride & I moved here 51 years ago. It's still a good place to live and raise kids & enjoy grand kids.


    3. So you're saying you can buy cheddar and jack block cheese from the store and store it in it's original plastic without doing anything else to it? In cool room temperature, not in a cellar or basement? How long does it successfully keep this way?

  3. I, too, have waxed hard cheeses and they stayed very well in the hall cupboard for several months. Yes, the flavor did become stronger over time but otherwise did very well at temps in 60's-70's.

    One tip about canning not related tow dairy but worth while - when canning anything and the canner (either pressure or boiling water canners) is not full (7 - 8 jars)I fill the remaining few spaces in the canner with the same size jars of water and can up the water to become sterile water to store in case of emergencies, medical needs, etc. when clean, safe water may not be available.

    1. You should check out the term 'bog butter' -- this refers to storing butter in containers and then burying it in peat bogs as a way of preserving. There have been cases of butter as much as 2000 yrs old dug up that are still edible, albeit with sometimes a different taste/texture though not always. Cheese on the other hand seems to just lend itself to traditional methods of waxing and rinding (inoculating the outside of a pressed cheese with a known none-harmful culture) with storage in caves or root cellars. Yes, it it gets sharper and more developed with age, but for many varieties of cheese that is a good thing!

  4. Thank you so much for this post, Enola. I had hoped to can both butter and soft cheese if I found it at a great price; now I know not to waste my time and jars. How did you can the hard cheese? Pressure or water bath? Time and pounds? I, too, would love to have a bat cave. Other girls dream of diamonds, and I just want a nice hole in the ground!

  5. First time visitor, so maybe you covered this in the past: Is there a reason that you didn't try canning ghee? Without the milk solids the fat keeps well for months. I appreciate you sharing these experiences!

  6. thank you for the update on your butter, cream cheese and hardened cheese experiments ( adventures )...i am like you in believing that you should be able to home can anything that you buy in a can from the grocer. and like you, i love to can and not have to use my freezer any more than i do. i wondered if you have ever tried storing grated parmesan in a jar and just sucked the air out with a food saver contraption, or used those oxygen absorbers.

  7. Thanks for the once again, great post.

    I wax my cheese but hadn't thought to can it. As for butter, I make Ghee out of it. My last batch is over two years old and still tastes yummy.


      canning butter and cheese and much more with

  9. Thank you for the after(with pics). So many times I have read about canning the items you logged about but there was never an after especially an after that was months down the road. Which is after all the goal for food preservation right.

    How did you squeeze the milk out of the butter ?

  10. Enola, could you be more specific on how you stored your butter in the "bat cave"?
    Also, could you give the dimensions of the "bat cave"and things you might do differently if it were up to you?

    1. The butter was stored in its original package on the shelf - nothing fancy at all. My folks say that in the future they will put the butter a plastic tub - but really, there was no problem with it sitting on the shelf.

      The bat cave is 8x20 and, as it turns out, is way too small! It seems like plenty of room, but when you start filling it, you would be amazed at how little it is! Especially if you have a large family. Other than making it bigger, the bat cave is tremendous. My parents use it as a huge walk-in fridge in the summer, in addition to all of their storage. They had to do a little fiddling with it to get the air flow right, but other than that, it has been flawless.

  11. Did you try clarifying the butter into Ghee? That will store a lot longer...

  12. When you say "can" cheese, what method are you referring to? Do you HWB? Or Pressure Can? And what processing times did you use?

    And, I totally understand that this is NOT recommended, FDA, USDA, bladda bladda instructions. I'm just curious about the process you personally used.

  13. I pressure canned hard cheddar cheese about 2 years ago in pint jars.
    The jars have air bubbles in it, is this of any concern. They look and smell good.
    I processed these thru one of the good canning people on youtube that know what they're doing.
    Instead of melting in jars, I melted in microwave and maybe didn't stir well till it all got melted. This is maybe the only thing that I can think of that I done differently. Would like to know if air bubbles is any concern to worry about? Like this site.