1. Where can I age my cheese?
The following is taken from an excellent article in the Winter 2006 newsletter:
1. You can use your existing refrigerator, but unfortunately it is 10 - 15 degrees cooler then a cave and it has a tendency to suck the moisture out of anything that is unprotected.
To protect the cheese, place it in the warmest part of the refrigerator. To keep it from drying out, you will need an airtight container. The size of the container should be much larger than the cheese - 40% cheese and 60% empty space (air). You can control the humidity of the air inside the container by using a wet paper towel, crumpled up in a ball and placed in a corner of the container.
2. You can modify an old refrigerator. The temperature can be easily controlled with a regulator like our refrigerator thermostat. Plug it in and set it to 52-55F. The humidity can be controlled by simply using a pan of water with a partial cover. By simply adjusting the cover opening, you should be able to control the amount of humidity.
At times you may need to seriously increase the amount of moisture in the box, especially when starting out. In this case, you may need to spray the inside with sterile water or provide a damp towel. You will also notice that as the seasons change, you will have abrupt changes in the moisture level. The amount of cheese inside the cave will also affect the amount of moisture needed because there is less of a problem when it is filled with moist cheeses.
3. You can also find a cool space in the cellar where the cheese can be protected in a cabinet or in covered plastic boxes. This cool cellar will do a pretty good job, with stable temperatures during most of the year. However, controlling the humidity will still be a bit of a challenge.
Plastic boxes with lids will work well to conserve moisture. Simply use a wet sponge or paper towel to maintain the moisture needed. The paper towel or sponge should not be dripping wet. The object is to introduce moisture to the air and not to leave the bottom of your container with standing water. The paper towel should not be touching the cheese. (The air should be damp, not the cheese.)
If you are also using plastic boxes for draining your soft ripened cheese, make sure you keep clearing the draining whey so the cheese is not in contact with it. If you then use the box for drying, remove the top and use a fan to provide gentle air movement.
When using the plastic boxes, several considerations are important;
The first is not to let too much moisture build up inside on the cover and drip onto the cheese. If you see moisture condensing on the lid or collecting in the bottom, make sure you wipe it off when turning the cheese. You do not want a wet surface to develop or mold may become a serious problem. Also, when using these for soft ripened and high moisture cheeses that continue to drain for several days, pay close attention to the moisture build up.
Mats should also be used in these boxes to keep the cheese off of the bottom surface to allow them to breathe and keep away from excessive moisture.
Since the volume of air in these boxes is somewhat limited, they should be opened frequently to exchange the gases produced by ripening for fresh air. This is especially important with higher moisture young cheeses.
2. If I don't have exactly the right temperature and humidity, will I make anyone sick from eating my cheese?
Cheese is usually safe to eat if you pay close attention to healthy milk supplies and the process. If your milk comes with bad bacteria, it may very well survive the process and cause health issues. For this reason, it is important to have a healthy starter culture to prevent other bacteria from getting a hold in your cheese Of course, sanitation is always essential.
3. After only a few days of drying, my cheese has mold on it.
This is natural. Wipe it down with a cloth soaked in heavy salt water.
4. My cheese is developing cracks during the drying stage. Should I be pressing it more?
Your problem is not the cheese inside being too moist but the air outside being too dry. During the winter the air humidity is nil. We pump about 5 gallons of water a week into our cave when the temperatures here drop too low. This is a common problem during the winter and you will need to find a more humid area for these cheeses (65-75% will work).
Thinking about pressing more for a drier cheese is not an option. The final moisture control needs to be done in the pot with the heating and stirring. Your final cheese will have two types of moisture; water bound in the curd that is not going to be released by press and water that is free and can be removed by pressing. Pressing is for consolidation of the curd and the release of final moisture.
5. Why is my cheese dry and crumbly?
Too much acidity developed in the cheese... As the acid increased, it caused the calcium balance to change (less calcium in the cheese). This caused a weaker bond for the curd and hence a less elastic, more brittle cheese. The excess acidity also caused the curds to shrink and to force out more moisture over time. This is commonly known as 'acid cut.' The cause of this can be one or a combination of two problems:
1... too much culture or too long a ripening time which creates more acid
2 ... not a long enough stir after heating to drive off excess lactose. This lactose will carry over into the later stages and provide the fuel to continue to produce acid.
Next time add less culture (20-50%) and/or stir a bit longer in the pot until the curd seems a bit drier. A combination of these two should get you back on track. If you are using our small packs of culture, cut back to 1/2-3/4 pack for two gallons or go to making 3-4 gallons with one pack.
6. When it was done aging, my cheese had mold all through it.
This is an indication that the cheese was not prepared well. The interior should be a single consolidation of the cheese curds which should not allow the mold to develop internally. This growth could be due to many things; the curds being too dry before pressing which allows them to cool too much, not using enough weight when pressing or nor pressing long enough.
7. Why is my cheese coming out white instead of yellow?
The color of cheese comes from the milk. If the herd is grass fed you will get a rich cream to yellow color. If it is a silage fed herd it will be white. If you want your cheese to be yellow, you will need to add cheese coloring (Annatto).