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Setting up your own cheese cave
[Part 1]

If you want your cheese to ripen properly
you have to make them a good home and
take care of them like little bambinos.

photo of the caves where Roquefort is aged

Home Made Cheese Cave ... How to do it!

For centuries caves, which are usually cool and have a consistent humidity, have been great environments to age and store cheese. Caves are still used today, but usually they are man-made structures with a highly controlled environment.

Now as Home and small Artisinal cheese makers with limited resources we need to see that our aging cheeses have the best possible environment we can give them.

How do we do this ?? ... Well the good news is that we do have options,
but these options must consider what is best for the aging of the cheeses
within the confines of your resources

These Aging considerations are:
... A proper and as constant Temperature (45-58F) as possible
... Specific Moisture level for the specific cheeses (~ 80-98%)
... A certain amount of Fresh Air to remove by products of aging

1...You can use your existing Fridge
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 fridge and to keep it from drying out you will need an airtight container. The size of the container should be larger than what is needed ... 40% cheese and 60% empty space (air).

...apologies to Karen Felt
for using her pic here ...

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
.... OR

2 ... You can modify an old Fridge...
click on images below for larger pics

... The temperature can be easily controlled using a controller like the one shown above. The humidity can be controlled by simply using a pan of water with a partial cover as shown here ... 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 w/ sterile water or provide a damp towel.
You will also notice that at seasons change you will have abrupt changes in the moisture level
You should seriously consider a means to measure the moisture in your mini-cave as the gauge (hygrometer) in the photos above.
The amount of cheese inside the cave will also affect the amount of moisture needed ... less of a problem when filled with moist cheeses
All of the above can also be done with an old full sized unit.
.... OR

3 ... You can also find a cool space
in the cellar...

... Where the cheese can be protected in a cabinet
or as shown below in covered plastic boxes

This cool cellar will do a pretty good job with stable temperatures during most of the year but controlling the humidity will still be a bit of a challenge.

Plastic boxes with, lids as shown here, will do a pretty good job with conserving moisture and my current favorites are these Rubbermaid 'Take-Alongs' shown on the right above ... essentially a flat tray with covers

They can easily hold 6 or more smaller 5" cheeses as shown here...

... or 2 or more 8" Tomes. I simply use a wet sponge or paper towel to maintain the moisture needed...... which can be easily rinsed in bleach to keep it somewhat sanitized.

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 these boxes for draining your soft ripened cheese make sure you keep clearing the draining whey so that cheeses are 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.

For larger wheels, I find these cake holders work quite well, but the occupied space percentage is a bit higher and more attention needs to be paid to opening and turning the cheese to provide it with fresh air

If 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 cheeses. 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 ... especially with higher moisture young cheeses.

In our next Newsletter I will continue to expand upon this and go into more detail on setting up a separate room for aging your cheese ... If you have any questions you would like to ask or any specific details you would like included just click on my name below and put it down ... also if you have any photos of your cave you would like to see here ... send them along also .. we really do love your feedback

Jim Wallace 12/05

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