What Are the Best Practices for Storing and Aging Homemade Cheeses?

January 30, 2024

As avid cheese enthusiasts, many of you will have ventured into the fascinating world of homemade cheese-making. You’ve scoured the internet for the best cheese kits, followed the instructions diligently, and have been rewarded with a wheel or block of your very own homemade cheese. Yet, this is only half the journey. Your delicious creation must now undergo the process of aging, also known as affinage, and proper storage is a crucial part of this process. This article aims to guide you with tested and proven practices for storing and aging your homemade cheeses.

Understanding Cheese Aging

Cheese aging, or affinage, is the period during which cheeses develop their flavor, aroma, and texture. During this time, your cheese will be exposed to specific conditions of temperature, humidity, and air circulation that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and molds. These microorganisms work on the fats and proteins in the cheese, breaking them down into the complex flavor compounds that we love.

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Understanding the aging process is essential to identify the best methods for storing your cheese. The aging period can vary significantly between different types of cheese. For instance, a fresh goat cheese may only need a few days to age, while a cheddar or gouda can mature for several months to a year.

Controlling Temperature and Humidity

The temperature and humidity of the space where you store your cheese will significantly impact how well it ages. The ideal temperature for most aging cheeses is between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10-12 degrees Celsius). This temperature stimulates the activity of the bacteria and mold essential for creating great cheese flavor, without encouraging the growth of harmful microorganisms.

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Humidity is another crucial factor. Most cheeses need a humidity level of about 85%. However, the optimal humidity can vary depending on the cheese type. For instance, hard cheeses like parmesan require a lower humidity level, while soft, mold-ripened cheeses like brie need higher humidity.

Best Ways to Store Cheese

When it comes to storing your homemade cheeses, the golden rule is: never store cheese in plastic wrap. Plastic suffocates cheese and promotes the growth of harmful bacteria. Instead, cheese paper is the best material for wrapping your cheese. Cheese paper is coated with a thin layer of plastic on one side and porous paper on the other. This design allows the cheese to breathe while retaining the necessary humidity around the cheese.

Alternatively, you can store your cheese in a specialized cheese grotto. A cheese grotto is a small, climate-controlled box designed specifically for cheese storage. It maintains the ideal temperature and humidity for aging cheese and can be an excellent investment for serious cheese makers.

Taking Care of the Cheese Rind

The rind is the cheese’s outer layer that develops during the aging process. It plays a vital role in protecting the cheese and contributing to its flavor. For cheesemakers, the rind is a clear indicator of how well the cheese ages.

When aging cheese, it’s essential to check the rind regularly. A healthy rind should be firm and dry, not slick or slimy. If you see any unwanted mold, it’s perfectly okay to remove it by gently scraping it off with a knife.

The Role of Air Circulation in Cheese Aging

Good air circulation is essential when aging cheese. It prevents the buildup of moisture that can lead to unwanted mold growth. If you’re using a cheese grotto or a fridge for aging, make sure there’s enough space for air to move around your cheese freely.

Moreover, it’s essential to turn your cheese regularly. This practice ensures that the cheese ages evenly and maintains its shape. Depending on the cheese type, you might need to turn your cheese daily or every few days.

In the grand scheme of cheese making, proper storage and aging practices contribute significantly to the final product’s quality. By controlling temperature and humidity, choosing the right storage method, tending to the cheese rind, and ensuring good air circulation, you can age your homemade cheeses to perfection. Keep practicing these best practices, and you’ll surely master the art of cheese aging.

Creating the Perfect Cheese Aging Environment

Once you have a detailed understanding of the aging process, the next step is to create the perfect aging environment for your homemade cheeses. This environment can be a cheese cave, a cheese grotto, or even the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. The primary goal is to maintain a consistent temperature and humidity level.

A cheese cave is a climate-controlled space used to age cheese. It can be a dedicated room or a modified refrigerator or wine cooler. The ideal cheese cave should mimic the conditions of traditional European cheese aging caves, with a temperature of 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit and 85% humidity.

On the other hand, a cheese grotto is a small, often portable, cheese storage unit designed to create the perfect cheese aging environment. It’s a worthwhile investment if you plan to make cheese regularly. These units are specially designed to maintain the correct temperature and humidity, making cheese aging easier and more convenient.

If you’re unable to invest in a cheese cave or grotto, your refrigerator’s crisper drawer can also work. However, remember that the average refrigerator is much colder and drier than the ideal cheese aging environment. If you use your fridge, try to keep cheese in the warmest part, typically the crisper drawer, and monitor the humidity level carefully.

Important Factors in Cheese Storage

Once you have your aging environment set up, it’s time to focus on how to store your cheese properly. As mentioned earlier, never use plastic wrap as it can suffocate the cheese and promote harmful bacteria growth. Instead, opt for cheese paper for wrapping your cheese before storing it. It allows the cheese to breathe while maintaining the necessary humidity.

When storing cheese, make sure there’s sufficient air flow around it. This air circulation prevents moisture buildup that can lead to unwanted mold growth. If you’re using a cheese grotto or fridge, ensure the cheese isn’t tightly packed.

One of the most crucial aspects of cheese storage is to turn the cheese daily or every few days. Regular turning ensures that the cheese gets the appropriate air exposure and ages evenly. It’s also an opportunity to check on the cheese’s condition, focusing on the rind’s development and overall health.

Conclusion

Aging homemade cheese is a delicate process that requires attention to detail and a lot of patience. However, by understanding the aging process, creating the perfect aging environment, and focusing on proper cheese storage, you can successfully age your cheeses at home.

Remember to control the temperature and humidity, use cheese paper for wrapping, ensure good air flow, and regularly turn your cheese. As you keep cheese in the ideal aging environment and tend to it diligently, you’ll be rewarded with a delectable product that’s a testament to your cheese-making skills.

The art of cheese aging relies on trial and error, so don’t be disheartened if things don’t go perfectly the first time. Keep practicing these best practices, learn from your mistakes, and you’ll soon master the art of cheese aging to create delicious homemade cheeses. Happy cheese-making!