For aged cheeses, after making and drying the next stage is affinage, the "art of ripening a cheese to maturity by monitoring all aspects to assure proper development of aroma, flavour, appearance, and texture". This maturing or ripening is where the cultures and enzymes etc in cheese do their work, thus a very important cheese making stage.
My understanding, from a scientific perspective, is that the maturing stage parameters are:
- Time: Either 1 week to many months, you control, depending on will power .
- Temperature: Normally cooler cave type ~55 F/10 C, need basement or fridge, or naturally cool climate.
- Humidity: Normally 80-85% but hard to control over long term leading to possible molds if too humid and airborne bacteria or cracking from drying out, thus reason for waxing or making natural rind from brine bath or oiled rind or cloth wrapped and larded.
- Pressure: Normally not an issue and normally around 1 atmosphere, unless you are way up a mountain.
The parameter I want to talk about here is a key one, humidity. Over the millenium of cheese making, humidity control has been implemented via natural, washed or brine bathed rinds, coatings and more recently, waxes. I was in a store looking at cheese
that was a waxed wheel but had been cut into retail sized wedges and then vacuum sealed in thick clear plastic. This wrap was done to ensure that it continues to mature on the shelf while maintaining it's humidity and clear so that presentable to customers.
This got me thinking about coatings and waxes in cheese making that are fiddly and don't let you see what's going on inside, ie if mold develops and 21st century plastic vacuum bag sealers! The most popular and extensive brand appears to be FoodSaver
, but their machines cost USD100+ and permanently vacuum bag seal the contents with a roll of tubed plastic. Another well reviewed but very cheap brand is new in late 2007 Reynolds Handi-Vac
using resealable zip-lock type heavy freezer bags. Last night I went and bought one and bags. OK, a zip lock bag is definately not artisan old world, but it provides a very tight humidity barrier like wax plus it has the advantages of being:
- Cheap: I bought unit for USD10 plus box of fourteen 1 quart bags for USD3 and box of nine 1 US gallon for USD3 at US Walmart, and bags are re-usable.
- Quick: Just pop in bag, seal, and pump air out.
- Visability: Bag is see through.
- Access: Can open zip-lock and view and taste maturing cheese and re-seal and re-remove air.
I'll let you know how it works out . . .