Dairy Maiden

Artisanal Cheeses

Affinage, The Art of Aging Your Cheeses...

Not that many books or web sites talk about aging your cheeses very much. If they do, it's brief and generalized, and hard to apply on the home-made scale. Few of us have aging rooms, or humidity controls. And what about separating blue moldy cheeses from white moldy cheeses, or non-moldy cheeses when they have to share the same "cave"? Below are my "talking points" on affinage, the art of aging cheeses for small scale folks.

Hardware Needed

  • Your Cave:
    Electric Cooler, or Fridge, with thermostat.
    You have to have a cave for your cheese. I already had a few Coleman thermoelectric coolers so I got thermostats for them, and that is what I use. An old fridge will work, too, as long as it maintains the right temperature. Some folks have to use their regular, kitchen fridge, which is the most difficult place to age a cheese properly. See below for temperature info.
  • Containers:
    Plastic Airtight cheese boxes and Ziplock Freezer bags...
    You don't just put a raw new cheese into the cooler bare! It has to be in a container! I buy containers at Walmart and Kmart. Look for ones tall enough and with width enough to hold your cheeses. I have square, round, tall, and rectangular cheese boxes. Tupperware is just one brand. Any will do, as long as it can be airtight. For Swiss and Parmesan cheeses I use Ziplock Freezer bags.
  • Cheese mats:
    To fit your cheese boxes
    You need a couple of fitted mats for each box. I use wooden or bamboo sushi mats, and cut them to fit my boxes. Trace the outline of the box bottom onto the mat with a marker. Then use a hot glue gun to glue the woven strings together where you cut through it, so it won't unravel. A good glop of glue on each one! Now I use a pruning shears to cut the mat to shape. Trim to exact fit.

Managing the Cheeses

  • Humidity
    With the box lid being open or closed you control the humidity for the cheese in that box. A new cheese is wetter and needs oxygen. You must open and fan it, or let it sit open for a bit to air. Then close it. You must "manage" the environment until it stabilizes. A blue mold cheese wants about 85% humidity. A white mold cheese about 90%. Same thing for cheeses in Ziplocks - open or close the bag to vent and dry out, close to humidify and age when it stabilizes. Manage it!
  • Temperatures
    Cheeses need to age at between 42° and 52°F. There is no way around this. It varies a little by type of cheese. If you're going to age a cheese for 9 months, do it at 40°. If you're aging a Camembert for just 4 weeks, do it at 50-52°. Warmer temps speed up aging, cooler temps slow it down. If you have 2 electric coolers, use one for each temperature above. If you only have one cave, you're going to have to compromise - make cheeses that all like the same temperature, or adjust the thermostat to about 48° for all the cheeses. If you have to use your kitchen refrigerator, stick to hard cheeses that want a cooler temperature while aging, and find the spot inside that most closely matches the cheese's temp requirements.
  • Building a Rind
    I have successfully developed fine rinds on my Swiss cheeses. I age them in Ziplock bags. I air the bags out at intervals so there is no condensation within the bag. Sometimes the cheese has to sit out on the counter to dry for a while. I maintain the clean rind with vinegar on a clean cloth to kill any mold. Over 3 months a very thin rind develops. It is rough and "rustic".
  • Maintaining the rind
    As you age your hard cheeses, white and blue molds will try to grow on the rind. The most effective way to deal with this is to put some white vinegar in a dipping bowl and add a bunch of iodine-free salt to it. Stir to dissolve salt, then dip your clean cloth in it, and wash/brush the rind clean. Be firm but gentle. The acid pH of the vinegar, plus the salt, inhibit and kill the mold growth very effectively.