Wondering how to age a cheese? During aging (or ripening), cheeses are held at cool temperatures and high humidity (this process is called affinage). During this stage the bacteria, molds, and yeasts work their magic to create exceptional flavor and texture. Most cheeses call for aging temperatures of approximately 50-55ᵒF (10-13ᵒC), and a relative humidity level of about 85%. The exact specifications are dependent on the type of cheese being made. Temperatures may be as high as 65ᵒF/18ᵒC (for Swiss-type cheeses) or as low as 38ᵒF/3ᵒC (for mold-ripened cheeses).
The Cave from Swiss Hills Ferments can provide perfect conditions for aging any cheese. Temperature, humidity, and airflow are easily controlled to give you a consistent environment for your aging cheese. Most cheeses need a small amount of air flow and air exchange. If you are checking on your cheeses daily (to turn them, monitor the progression of the rind, check for mold growth, etc.), then you may be introducing adequate airflow simply by opening the door to the Cave. Additional airflow can also be achieved through use of the internal fan.
As the cheeses age, you will want to flip them regularly in order to distribute moisture evenly (every day at the beginning of aging, then gradually less frequently, depending on the recipe). Always use clean hands when handling your aging cheeses. Every encounter with your cheese is a chance to transfer bad bacteria to it, so be careful and take precaution.
Each cheese will have different aging characteristics. Some will be mold-ripened (such as brie), and develop a fuzzy white mold on the outside of the cheese. Yet with other cheeses, you may wish to maintain a pristine, mold-free rind. You will care for your cheeses differently, depending on your desired outcome. These are a few of the ways you may wish to care for your cheese rind: waxed cheese, natural rind, or washed rind. The following sections will discuss these aging options in more detail.
If you want a cheese that is essentially without a rind, you can seal it from the air by using food-grade wax or by vacuum sealing it. Either method would be a good idea if you cannot guarantee proper humidity levels (which shouldn’t be a problem in The Cave, unless you are aging more than one cheese with different humidity requirements).
First, allow the cheese to dry at room temperature for several days before you seal the cheese, as you do not want to trap any moisture inside. During the drying period, be attentive to any mold that pops up on your cheese. Wipe it off with a piece of clean cheesecloth dipped in brine (1 Tbsp salt and 1 Tbsp vinegar to 1 C of water), and allow the cheese to dry.
When using food-grade wax, heat it in a pot reserved solely for cheese waxing. You have two options for how to do this, depending on the wax temperature:
(1) Allow your cheese to come to room temperature. Heat the wax until it is melted (about 120ᵒF/49ᵒC). Dip half of the cheese into the wax (so that you aren’t waxing your fingers) and allow it to dry. Continue dipping until each surface is coated in wax. Then repeat until you have coated the cheese two or three times. This is a safe method of wax application, but you run the risk that mold may still develop underneath the wax, due to the low temperature of the melted wax. If mold does grow, and it is extensive, you will need to remove the wax, clean the cheese with a brine solution, dry, and reapply the wax. Or you can. . .
(2) Cool your cheese until it reaches refrigerator temperatures. Heat the cheese wax until it is 225ᵒF/107ᵒC. Be very careful, as this high temperature wax can scald skin (and be sure not to inhale the fumes). Dip the each side of the cheese into the wax for at least 6 seconds, and then allow to dry. Continue dipping until each side is coated in wax. Then repeat until you have coated the cheese two or three times. The higher wax temperature will kill mold spores on your cheese, insuring a mold-free rind.
You can use any color wax (yellow, red, or black) that you like, as long as it is specifically labeled as cheese wax. Some sources suggest using a natural-bristle brush to apply the wax instead of dipping the cheese. We do not recommend this, as we have found it to be a messier, less effective, and more time-consuming method of applying the wax.
The fact that we buy blocks of cheese from the grocery store that are pristine, rind-less, and mold-free, may make one hesitant to attempt a natural rind. But the truth is that cheese naturally invites mold. Instead of trying to eliminate it entirely, we can attempt to manage it, instead. Here are three methods to do this. The first is to brush your rind, the second is to oil the rind, and the third is to bandage the rind.