Any of the food preservation methods discussed in Part 1, and the additional UHT (ultra-high temperature pasteurization) and curing (using nitrates and/or smoking) for the protein category, should adequately prevent your stored foods from spoiling if stored properly, so I’m more concerned with which storage methods produce the best results for the different ways I use animals proteins in my Food Storage Cookbook recipes. Ultimately, milk is milk, and meat is meat; but different storage forms of these products perform very differently depending on how you cook them and what other ingredients you’re using, and some forms are definitely better than others for certain applications. Although there are exceptions, this article discussions my general observations with the different forms of storage animal proteins.
You can download the Storage Proteins quick reference chart (pdf) containing these commonly stored animal proteins, and print it for use with your Food Storage Cookbook. The following “long version” explains my ratings with additional detail and a few hints and tips.
DISCLAIMER: Some of the methods I mention aren’t entirely aligned with current USDA guidelines; however most are time-proven traditional methods that haven’t yet been tested by the USDA. It is the USDA policy to recommend against any method they haven’t tested or developed a consistently repeatable process for; the lack of recommendation doesn’t automatically mean that the method is unsafe or inherently risky. When in doubt, use your best judgment to ensure the safety and nutritional needs of your family.
Dairy: There are several methods to store milk and other dairy products, but some are difficult to source in North America and some are hotly contested. If you are interested in adding these to your food stores, you may be able to locate them at International or Asian grocers, or have them shipped from Europe, Australia or New Zealand. For all intents and purposes, I don’t distinguish between dairy from cows, goats, sheep or other lactating mammal unless the species has a significant impact on the storage or use of the milk or its various derived products.
Anyone familiar with commercial long-term storage dairy products has likely noticed that almost all of them are non-fat or low-fat, this is primarily due to the potential of these fats to become rancid (oxidize) over time; you can avoid or delay rancidity of full-fatted “whole” milk products packing properly in airtight, vacuum sealed containers with oxygen absorbers when necessary. Open containers of powdered dairy products in use will also benefit greatly from the addition of rechargeable desiccant packets to keep them from hardening or clumping. Most dairy powders are dehydrated, although some are now available freeze-dried; I have not noticed any performance improvement to justify the expense of these powders in freeze-dried format.
- Dry Milk:The most common form of dry milk available is made by spray-drying skim milk, tastes very similar to liquid skim milk, and comes in Instant or Non-Instant varieties. Instant milk takes up more pantry space because it is puffed to dissolve easier in cold water and you need to add more powder to recipes. Non-instant milk takes up less space than instant milk, but is more difficult to dissolve and dissolves best by whisking in warm water so it must be made in advance and chilled for drinking or cereal. Both versions perform exceptionally well in cooking, but non-instant milk is less expensive and tastes more like fresh milk when mixed than instant.
- Additionally, you may also be able to source whole powdered milk that has all the natural fats and milk solids intact (try a market that specializes in Latin products). Whole dry milk dissolves much like non-instant NF milk, but the taste is superior for drinking and cereal. It is marginally more expensive than NF dry milks, but is well worth the extra pennies if you plan to drink the resulting mixed milk or add it to cold cereals. You always have the option of making a batch of each and mixing them to help reduce the additional costs without sacrificing flavor.
- To improve the flavor of dry NF milk for drinking or cereal, you can add 1/2 to 1 tsp of butter powder for each pint of milk you mix.
- Liquid Milk:Liquid milk can be frozen easily, but will require a good deal of shaking once thawed to redistribute the separated fats and milk solids. The most common forms of storable liquid milk available are canned non-fat evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and UHT milk (no or low fat and whole). All these forms taste cooked compared to fresh because they are heat-processed which causes the milk sugars to caramelize.
- Evaporated and condensed milk are excellent in cooking and baking.
- For drinking or cold cereal, you can thin evaporated milk with water to produce a similar skim milk, but I find the flavor and consistency of UHT milk preferable for this application.
- You will need to add an acid, rennet or cultures to make butter, cheese, yogurt or sour cream from dry or canned milk.
- While the USDA does not recommend home-canning liquid milk or storing milk unrefrigerated; liquid milk has been canned at home using various methods, and unprocessed milk stored short-term in root cellars, for several generations.
- Butter: Real cultured and sweet cream butter, especially salted, keeps extremely well for several months in the cellar when properly covered to reduce dust, mold spores and pests. Because the churning process makes butter naturally low in moisture, it is not conducive to the majority of spoilage bacteria, and additional steps to reduce oxygen exposure can delay oxidation and further extend the shelf-life. Most commercial butter in supermarkets contains slightly more moisture and less solids than homemade or artisan butters and do not keep as long cellared.
- For longer storage in warm locations, salted and unsalted butter also freezes exceptionally well, although you may find it has a tendency to separate afterwards.
- Butter is also available commercially canned (try distributors in Europe, Australian or New Zealand). While the USDA does not recommend home-canning butter or storing butter unrefrigerated, it has been canned at home using various methods and stored for extended periods in cellars for several generations.
- Clarified Butter, or Ghee, with the milk solids removed is NOT intended to be eaten on toast and veggies like real cream butter, it is used in cooking as an oil and lard alternative. Clarified butter stores well home or commercially canned, or cellared like butter or lard.
- Cream butter is also available in dehydrated powdered form, which is an excellent replacement for cream butter when added dry in cooking and baking recipes and gives a nice butter flavor when sprinkled dry over vegetables or popcorn. However, powdered butter is much lower in fat than cream butter and ghee so does not perform as well for sautéing foods, may require adding oil or lard to some baking recipes, and is not very palatable mixed as a spread for toast.
- Buttermilk: Unless you plan to drink it, or cook/bake with buttermilk frequently or in large quantities, buttermilk powder is the best storage method and it performs nearly identically to fresh buttermilk in cooking and baking recipes. Buttermilk powder can be reconstituted with water for drinking, but the flavor is texture is not ideal and I would recommend canned or frozen buttermilk for this purpose. If you cook or bake with buttermilk frequently or in large quantities, you may find that canned buttermilk is more convenient.
- Cheeses: Nearly all unprocessed and non-pasteurized “raw” or “aged” cheeses are naturally preserved by the beneficial bacteria used to culture them, the added salt, and the very low moisture content; therefore, in general, these cheeses have an indefinite shelf-life in the pantry or cellar without any further processing as long as they are covered appropriately to prevent dust, pests and unintended mold growth (many cheeses are intentionally inoculated with specific molds for flavor).
- Cheeses that have been pasteurized before and after culturing, like most found in the supermarket, may last several weeks in the cellar if properly covered, but are best frozen for longer storage. The flavor of frozen cheese is nearly identical to fresh, but the texture becomes crumbly and it may not melt properly after thawing. If you intend to freeze your cheeses, I recommend shredding block cheeses beforehand and adding waxed paper sheets between individual slices.
- Soft, semi-soft, and young cheeses like cottage cheese, cream cheese, brie, camembert, queso fresco and fresh mozzarella do NOT freeze well and there are currently no satisfactory long-term storage methods for them if they have been pasteurized.
- Several processed, pasteurized cheese sauces available canned or as UHT-pasteurized blocks in shelf-stable hermetic packaging. While the USDA does not recommend home-canning cheese, there are several methods that have been used for generations for young, pasteurized or processed cheeses.
- There are some commercially canned cheddar-style cheeses available (check Australia & New Zealand) that are excellent for plain snacking and most recipes, although they don’t melt quite as well as fresh because the proteins have been altered during heat processing.
- Dehydrated and freeze-dried cheese powders are excellent for sauces, cooking or sprinkling as seasoning; and there are a few varieties of freeze-dried shredded cheeses available that melt well as toppings and are appropriate for uncooked recipes once rehydrated.
- Cream: Most commercial cream can be frozen, but will require extensive shaking and whisking to redistribute the fats and solids. There are a few commercially canned creams available (check a UK distributor or a Latin grocer) which allow slightly longer storage times and some convenience.
- Frozen and canned cream performs well in most cooking and baking recipes, in beverages and over fruit; however, you may find that it will no longer aerate properly to create a full-bodied whipped cream (the addition of unflavored gelatin powder or confectionary sugar may help).
- Unpasteurized fresh cream has been traditionally stored covered in the cellar for several days (or weeks!), and the small amount of souring from the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria cultures were considered an improvement that provided richer flavors to baked goods, butter and cheeses. I do not recommend that processed, homogenized and pasteurized supermarket cream be stored in the cellar for more than a few hours, since it no longer contains the beneficial bacteria that keep harmful microorganism at safe levels.
- Sour Cream: Dehydrated sour cream powder is excellent in cooking and baking recipes. The flavor and consistency is not satisfactory for plain eating as a topping or uncooked in dips; however it does add more authentic sour cream flavor to various substitutes made by souring concentrated dry milk. Sour cream does not can or freeze well, and there are currently no freeze-dried alternatives.
- Whey: Dehydrated powdered whey is often used in many baking recipes, and for adding body and protein to broth, porridge, smoothies and other beverages.
- Yogurt: Non-pasteurized, live culture yogurt is already a preserved product and keeps well in the cellar for up to 2 weeks without further processing. Pasteurized yogurt should be kept refrigerated. The most satisfactory method of “preserving” yogurt is continual batching, using the last bit of the previous batch to inoculate new milk for the next batch. You can use any milk, even reconstituted dry milk, to incubate with dehydrated or freeze-dried yogurt culture packets or from fresh yogurt with active cultures. Yogurt does not freeze well for cooking, but does make an excellent frozen confection. Yogurt does not can well. Dehydrated yogurt powder is excellent in cooked in baked recipes, and fruit smoothies. There are a few freeze-dried yogurt “bites” available, but their uses are limited to snacking and desserts in my experience.
Eggs: There are several methods to store eggs and egg products, but some are difficult to find and some are hotly contested. For all intents and purposes, I don’t distinguish between eggs from chickens, ducks, geese or other layers unless the species has a significant impact on the storage or use of the egg or its various derived products. Fresh, unwashed eggs can be kept in the cellar for several months without any additional processing, they will slowly dehydrate but should not spoil unless the shell is damaged or they are subjected to very warm temperatures.
Washed eggs, or those where you’re not sure whether they have been washed or not, should be kept refrigerated because the bloom (a natural protective coating deposited when the egg is laid) may no longer be intact and spoilage organisms can infiltrate the pores of the shell. There are several traditional methods employed that may protect washed eggs for cellar storage by mimicing the bloom, but these are not always consistently effective.
Egg yolks freeze well, and whole eggs can be frozen if they are whipped with a small amount of salt (for savory recipes) or sugar (for sweet recipes); egg whites alone do not freeze well. Cooked eggs are reasonably palatable frozen, although they may be limp and soggy when thawed.
For long term storage, dehydrated whole eggs, separated yolks and separated whites in powdered or crystallized formats are the preferred method for cooking and baking; however some doctoring may be necessary for eating as scrambled eggs or omelets due to texture and flavor changes in the dehydration process. For scrambled eggs alone, cooked scrambled eggs that have been freeze-dried have superior flavor and texture, with crystallized eggs coming in second.
There are limited canned egg products, limited primarily to pickled hardboiled eggs, which are not recommended for shelf storage or home-canning (although both have been traditionally done for generations).
Fish & Seafood: There are several methods to store freshwater and saltwater fin fishes, cephalopods, crustaceans and mollusks; but some are difficult to source in North America. If you are interested in adding these to your food stores, you may be able to locate them at International or Asian grocers, or have them shipped from Europe, Australia or New Zealand. The species, or more accurately the physical composition and characteristics, of fishes and seafood have a significant impact on which storage methods are successful while also retaining good flavor and texture.
All raw fin fishes freeze well in vacuum sealed bags or in airtight freezer containers submerged in enough water to fully cover the flesh but with enough room left for the water to expand when it freezes. Cooked fin fishes generally do not freeze well. Small cooked shrimp freeze well, and larger shrimp and prawns freeze well either cooked or raw. Octopus and squid can be frozen raw or partially cooked, and can yield reasonably palatable results in braised or fried dishes if thawed slowly and drained. Cooked crayfish, crab, langoustines, and lobster freeze well either in or out of the shell. Mussels, clams and oysters can be frozen cooked or raw, in or out of the shell, but I get better results freezing the cleaned cooked meats out of the shell.
Nearly all fin fishes can be canned well, although the most common commercial varieties are sardines, herring, tuna and salmon and may be packed in water, oil, sauces or pickled in brine. Canned baby shrimp, oysters and clams are also available and work reasonably well in a variety of recipes. Canned crab and lobster are available, but due to the delicate texture and flavor of these shellfish, getting satisfactory results is sometimes hit or miss.
There are several varieties of brined and air-dried, salt-dried, dehydrated and freeze-dried fin fishes and shellfish available which are excellent in soups, stews and casseroles. Smoked fish is not itself preserved unless it has also undergone one of the other methods. True salted fish preserved properly for safe storage are no longer common and can be quite expensive, you must ensure that the fish are completely dry (nearly brittle, not just crusted) and take precautions to keep them dry (replacing the salt packing with fresh as necessary) and the fillets covered to prevent any spoilage or mold growth; to achieve the best results, soak in several changes of ice water before using.
Meat, Poultry and Game: Any flesh that you intend to eat rare or medium rare should be kept frozen, with the exception of the few meats that are freeze-dried raw. Organ meat should be kept frozen, with the exception of some preparations, such as cured sausages and canned pate.
Nearly all muscle meats can well, and common species are available commercially in several different preparations. Canned meats are best added at the end of cooking since they are already cooked during the canning process, with the exception of high-liquid dishes that will be slow cooked, such as soups and stews.
Most freeze-dried meats are pre-cooked, and the same cooking recommendations apply as with canned meats. Dehydrated meats, such as jerky, have extended shelf-life, but are not intended to shelf-for long periods unless vacuum sealed in oxygen and moisture-free airtight packaging. Many dehydrated meats can be eaten as-is or added to high-liquid slow cooking recipes, but others (such as dry/chipped beef and salt pork) should be soaked and can be added to quicker-cooking recipes.
Smoked meats themselves are not preserved unless they are also cured (with nitrates), fermented, and/or almost completely dry, such as many authentic salamis and premium dry hams. Dried, smoked and cured meats can be hung for extended periods in the cellar as long as care is taken to avoid excessive moisture and unintended mold growth (some salami and sausages are intentionally inoculated with mold for flavor).
Due to the high potential for unknown parasites and pathogens, it is prudent to always fully cook any game meats before or after preservation; however, according to University of Alaska Cooperative Extension, parasites (such as Trichinella and tapeworm) are killed in cuts of meat no thicker than 1-inch which have been kept frozen at or below 0F/-15C for 1 month or longer (except Arctic species such as polar bear or walrus).
Allergy Warning! Four of the “Big Eight” food allergens fall in this category: Milk, Eggs, Fish and Shellfish. Many of the animal product substitutes contain one or more of these four, and possibly also one or more of the remaining four:, Tree Nuts, Peanuts and Legumes, Soy, and Wheat. In some cases, these items may not be easily identified on the label because derivatives are used, not whole products. Additionally, an overwhelming percentage of food sensitivities are also in this category (grains, especially corn, being high on that list). For these reasons, I caution anyone trying a new ingredient to purchase a sample amount to see if you or your family members have any adverse reactions before stocking a large quantity. If a member of your family has a known related food allergy, I strongly recommend conducting the 14 Step Toxicity Challenge used to determine if wild foraged plants are edible. Remember adverse food reactions can be sudden and severe, and it is possible to develop allergies and sensitivities over time; always clearly label stored foods that contain known allergens for your family or one of the “Big Eight”.
I hope you have enjoyed this Food Storage series and feel more confident using preserved storage foods in your pantry and adding them to your favorite recipes in your Food Storage Cookbook.
Food Storage, Part 1: Common Methods of Food Preservation
Food Storage, Part 2: Storing Produce (with printable quick reference chart)
Food Storage, Part 3: Storing Grains and Vegetable Protein (with printable quick reference chart)