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Affinage Part I: Active Factors

Affinage Part I: Active Factors

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While the process of making cheese has a number of tricky spots, the real challenge is in the aging or affinage. Proper aging is key to producing good cheese! Without it, you’re lovingly crafted cheese will turn into a moldy brick. For this discussion, we will break ageing into two topics, active and passive management. This month we’ll look at the active part.

 

The two most important active parts of cheese maintenance are flipping and ‘rubbing’. Flipping your cheese ensures even ripening and drying, while rubbing controls mold growth. Good recipes will tell you specific information about how often to flip and rub, and what exactly to rub your cheese with. That being said, the most common rubbing method is the brine approach. After the rind has developed, swab the cheese’s exterior every several days with a piece of cheese cloth dipped in a nearly saturated brine solution.  The salt in the brine inhibits and kills mold growth, while establishing a good rind and adding the proper flavor. Some sources will also suggest rubbing with a vinegar and salt solution.  I do this sparingly, mostly on crevices and other problem spots, as it can dry the rind out. If you’d like to have a natural rind cheese dry rub the surface with a dedicated nail brush or cheese cloth. This will keep the mold in check while encouraging the right kind to grow.

 

My favorite aging method is oil rubbing. Oil rubbing is common on many cheese that are aged for long periods of time, think parmigiano, as it helps regulate moisture loss while smothering mold growth. This method will work on most hard cheeses, even ones that are not traditionally oiled, however, avoid styles that are very moist or mold ripened. Many different oils can be used, but olive is the most natural. To do this, first follow the brine rubbing method, or as directed by the recipe, for about a month to ensure a proper rind, and then switch to oil, rubbing every other day for another month. Just dip a piece of cheese cloth in the oil and thinly coat all sides. You want to build up a film of oil over time for best results. After a month you can start oiling less often. Eventually you only need to do it once a month or so.

 

There’s also more creative rubs that will enhance the flavor of your cheese. Honey is a great option as it naturally has anti-microbial properties, and it imparts the cheese with a hint of sweetness and depth of flavor. I’ve found rubbing cheese with honey will drastically reduce the amount of mold that grows on the surface. This is perfect for those of you who don’t have the time to rub your cheese frequently or those who often forget to do it. Other good options are balsamic vinegar or chile paste rub.

 

Some cheeses call for specific treatments other than rubbing. For example, clothbound cheddar is covered in lard then wrapped in cloth, so the mold will grow on the cloth instead of the cheese. The most common alternate procedure is waxing.  Waxing is traditional for some cheese varieties like Harvarti, but can be done to most kinds. I’m not a huge fan of waxing because, unless it’s executed perfectly, mold will often grow under the wax. However, here are a few tips. Make sure you use cheese wax – other waxes are poor substitutes. The surface of the cheese you are about to wax must be completely dry or the wax will not stick. Lastly, use an old crock pot to heat then store your wax – you won’t have clean to up the mess and it’s always ready to go. Vacuum sealing is becoming a popular aging option. Another low maintenance option is soak your cheese in an alcohol. Cabra al vino or drunken goat cheese anyone?

 

Remember no aging treatment with be effective if you did not properly brine and dry you cheese. Find and use quality recipes and follow directions closely.

 

Emily Klie teaches cheese making classes at in the Philadelphia and Reading areas. She trained as an apprentice at a farmstead goat dairy in the Hudson Valley, and loves cheese both as an artisan product and as a homesteading mainstay. For classes, tips and recipes check out her cheese and fermentation blog at www.fermenton.wordpress.com

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