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AGING

General     Mold Ripened & Washed Rinds      Wraps     Natural Rinds      Waxed

General

There are many times when it is important to measure the temperature and the humidity in your "cave" or aging area.  A hygrometer can be very useful to measure both and it can even alert you when conditions have changed.  For information about this, see our blog article Using Hygrometers to Measure Humidity

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... (See our Measuring Acidity section and our blog article about Using a pH Tester.) 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).

Mold Ripened & Washed Rinds

1. What is the difference between smear and washed rind cheeses?

Smear and washed rinds are essentially the same. The key here is the red to orange yellow surface with a characteristic B. Linens aroma that can range from mild to strong. All of these cheeses rely on a surface developed from washing or smearing with salt water and Coryneform (B. Linens) enhanced solution.

Look for a moist but not wet surface. There should be no slimy surfaces or dried cracking surfaces. It should be red to orange/yellow with perhaps a light white mold growing through it. The paste needs to be fully ripened with little to no opaque curdiness in the center.

2. Can I age my mold-ripened cheeses in the same area as my washed rind cheeses?

The best way to age them is in separate plastic containers with covers. That way, they can all be in the same aging space together. It helps if you wash your hands between opening the different boxes.

3. My mold-ripened cheeses are getting too runny in the middle.

This is a common problem caused by insufficient draining and drying of the curds before moving the cheese to the aging area. This is a very important step because too much moisture will accelerate the protein breakdown. Since this begins near the rind where the white mold is growing, it will result in a runny overripe area just under the surface. Make sure the draining area stays in the 70-74F range and that your drying time is sufficient to get rid of any residual moisture on the surface.

4. The white mold on my soft ripened goat cheese is forming a skin and separating from the cheese.

The problem is not the skin. It is from too much residual moisture in the early curd caused by one or all of the following:

1. In the early part of your process you are not setting your milk firm enough and hence it becomes more difficult to drain.

2. You are not draining them well enough before drying off (can be a problem with late lactation milk). Remember that the curd will lose 10-20% moisture in the drain/dry phase.

3. You are not drying enough or fast enough before the mold starts to form. (Using a fan may help.) Keep the RH below 75-80%. The ideal target here is optimum moisture in the cheese coinciding with the beginning of mold growth - about 5 days.

In a nutshell, what is happening is that your mold begins to form before the cheese has dried down to its desired size. Once the mold forms, its jacket and the curd continues to shrink due to moisture loss and the cheese becomes a size too small for its coat. Another problem here is that this is also the area where protein breakdown (proteolysis) happens the fastest with excess moisture. This can result in a very runny paste, which is why the skin falls away. These cheeses generally ripen very early near the surface while they are chalky and firm in the middle.

5. I am allergic to penicillin. Are there any mold ripened cheeses without penicillium in them?

No, because it pretty much defines the genre. However, there is good news! A lot of research has been done on both the blue and white penicillium molds, and the findings are that there is no relationship between these and the medicinal penicillin.

6. My bacteria ripened cheeses have molds on them-white fuzz to blue-green and dark olive.

This is a collection of different molds dropping in from your aging space. The black spots are probably caused by too wet an environment. For this cheese, you need to salt it well and then begin a 6% salt wash every 3 days to establish the surface. (Vinegar is not appropriate here because it stops the good molds that are trying to establish.) You can probably save the cheese by washing everything off with brine and starting over with a wash every 3 days.

Wraps

1. How do I choose which wraps to buy?

If you are making your cheese at home and have the time and patience to monitor the final ripening stages on a daily basis, you may not need a wrap at all.

If, however, you want a reprieve from this constant watch and have cool storage and proper moisture, you may easily get by with the clear single layer wraps. They are somewhat permeable and the cheese should be able to breathe well.

If you plan to leave your cheese unattended, as in sending to a store or in giving for gifts where they will not get the attention they need, the 2 ply wrap is best. The inner parchment layer acts to absorb surface moisture and hold it in reserve for dry conditions. The perforated poly outer layer restricts moisture loss but still allows gases to move through it.

2. Why is the 2-ply wrap better than the clear, breathable wrap?

The clear wrap was designed to allow a certain amount of moisture to leave, but not enough to dry out the cheese. The 2 ply is a better solution because it also has the waxed parchment inner layer to act as a moisture absorbing layer and transmit excess moisture to the perforated outer layer. Many of our customers have been using the clear wrap successfully for years, so we continue to carry it for them.

3. When should I wrap my cheese?

Wait until the mold has fully developed. Make sure it is not too wet or it will just saturate the wrap.

4. My cheese is sticking to the wrap.

It may have been wrapped while it was still too moist, or there may have been too many temperature fluctuations. Wait until it is dry before wrapping and keep the temperature consistent while storing.

5. Black mold has formed on my wrapped cheeses.

This can be caused by washing the cheeses too frequently or by the surface growth being so thick that it holds excess moisture.

6. After 3 weeks in the wine cooler, I found my wrapped cheeses had maggots on them!

This is quite common. Flies do love their cheese! At some point you allowed flies to get to the cheese and lay their eggs. Then, they hatched and, as you found, it is not pretty. This is one of the reasons why sanitation is so important in the aging area.

Natural Rinds

1. My bandage has become loose.

If the cloth is loose, it is not doing its job. Remove it and try to get most of the mold off. Scrape the stubborn bits and wash well with full brine and then either re wrap with lard and cloth or wax your cheese.

When bandaging with lard, we recommend soaking the cloth in melted lard and then pulling this through two fingers to squeegee off the excess. Smooth the cloth as best you can, making sure the top and sides overlap. Do the top and bottom first and then press. Then, do the sides and press again. The next day, repeat it. It usually takes 4-5 days for pressing and bandaging.

When you do this, the cloth actually impresses right into the cheese. We usually do a two layer bandage and the molds and mites are kept at bay quite nicely.

2. Mold has grown on my bandage.

First of all, take a look at the bandaging of the Cheddar on our recipe pages. Was your cloth bandaging done like that and pressed into the cheese? If not, you may see mold forming under the bandage and this can be problematic.

If mold has grown underneath, you will need to remove all cloth and brush or scrub all of the mold off. Then, when it is clean, I suggest waxing the cheese.

If your cloth cover has no mold under it then there is no problem. Mold can grow as it likes on the outside but if it gets too heavy, just brush it off. (Note the molds growing at various stages on the Cheddar page.) When the cheese is ripe just pull the cloth off and the surface is ready to go. Our Cheddars become quite furry and multi-color molds grow at certain points in their aging.

The advantage of bandaging is breathability. Mold will still grow on the exterior of the bandage so there is a bit of maintenance. Wax does not breathe as well but has no maintenance. Both need to be turned once a week or so.

3. How can I label my non-waxed cheeses?

You may use a prismatic style water color pencil while the cheese is still moist. This will remain only on the surface.

4. My cheeses are aging and they seem to be softer than they were when they came out of the brine.

The softness of the curd after 7-14 days is a result of the ripening beginning. After you brine the cheese, the curd becomes very tough. But as the salt migrates to the center, the outer curd texture begins to soften substantially. It is good that you noticed this since it indicates the start of ripening

Now all you need to do is open the box. Turn the cheese and wipe any mold off with a dry cloth as you see it. If the mold gets away from you, use a cloth dampened with a light salt water solution, and scrub it off.

5. We had to leave town for 6 days and the mold on our aging cheese is scary! Is it dangerous?

We would suggest you take a deep breath, grab a cloth soaked in brine and just knock that mold out of there. The problem may be that there is too much moisture in your drying area. The rind was not established well enough before you began aging.  If the rind is too moist, the mold will work its way into the rind, producing off flavors.

At this point, we would scrub these cheeses well with a brush and brine. Use the edge of a sharp knife to scrape stubborn dark spots. Then dry off well for 2-3 days. Watch for the rind to darken and toughen up a bit before moving to the aging area.

The amount of mold on your cheese depends a lot on how you would like them to develop. Cleaner rinds make a more appealing presentation but involve more work. The key to these natural rinds is to dry them off well after salting and before placing them in the aging room. You may need to spend more time in the beginning with them, but after a month or so, wiping them down every other week should be enough.

Waxed

1.  Can I use paraffin or beeswax instead of cheese wax?

When we started off making cheese over 30 years ago, all that was available was paraffin, so that is what we used. However, we were disappointed with the results. Paraffin is very brittle and does not easily come off of the cheese when ready to eat. It cracks and leaves little pieces all over the surface which have to be cut away.

Next, we tried to mix it with vegetable oil in a 50/50 mixture. This was a bit better but it was still very crumbly. Then we got a hold of some cheese wax from a professional and we were amazed! The real thing is soft and pliable and may be peeled off the finished cheeses, melted, strained and reused over and over again. So, now when we wax cheese, this is what we use.

As for beeswax, yes you can use that if you have you have bees in your backyard. The drawback to beeswax is the price, but it is a very good pliable wax and will cover your cheeses well.

Note: All wax is highly flammable. Read the instructions well and never walk away from the pot when it is over the flame. Do not use a microwave to heat your wax!

2. Are certain colors of wax appropriate for certain cheeses?

Black has been traditionally used for aged cheeses and red is commonly used on Dutch cheeses. The 'yellow' wax has no color added to it, so if you are concerned about additives, use it. Most home cheese makers simply use the color they prefer.

3. How do I know when the cheese is dry enough to wax?

Most people wait too long to wax. Dry it off so that the surface darkens slightly and there is no free moisture where it sits. The surface should take on a matte finish and then it is ready to wax. A small fan sometimes helps the drying. (It is always best to try to stay ahead of the mold development before waxing and to observe proper aging temperatures- 52-56F.)

4. Can I age my waxed cheese in the same space as my mold-ripened cheese?

The best method is to use separate plastic containers (with covers) in the same area. Wash your hands if you are moving back and forth between boxes.

5. How critical is the temperature of the melted wax to adequately seal the cheese?

To be successful at preventing mold, the wax needs to reach a temperature of 225-240F and the cheese needs to be dipped in it for at least 6 seconds. You really need to control that temperature because if the wax gets hotter it might reach its flash point and catch on fire.  We use a heavy pot with a candy thermometer and control the wax temperatures carefully.  Others simply take an old electric fry pan, tape the temperature control dial in place and get the wax up to this temperature.

6. How much wax does a typical 2 pound round of cheese use?

A lot depends on whether you are dipping (preferred) or painting the wax on and how thick you put it on. We find that the 5 lb block is enough wax to melt and dip in but if you have a wider melting pot this may not be deep enough for dipping.

We use a very heavy aluminum pot and just keep the wax in it, allowing it to cool. Then, we flip it upside down on a shelf to keep the dust out. We also recommend double dipping to make sure there are no pinholes. When applying the second coat, the wax can be at 160F to avoid melting the first coat of wax.

7. After removing a section of cheese to sample it, can I re-wax it, seal it and continue aging?

Yes. Wipe the surface with cider vinegar, let dry and re-wax. This applies also to times when you accidentally break a piece of cheese off the wheel. Just make a clean slice across the break and re-wax the area.

8. After I make my cheese, can I divide it into halves and wax them separately, so that I will be able to eat one half while the other half ages?

The larger the cheese is, the better it ages. So, we recommend waxing it all as one piece. Then, when the cheese is ripe, cut it in half and re-wax the part you want to keep aging.

9. Do I need to wax my 4 pound wheels of cheese?

With the larger cheeses, you can either wax or form a natural rind by regularly brushing off the mold and oiling the surfaces every two weeks.

10. Can I vacuum pack my cheese instead of waxing it?

Vacuum packing is best used for storing cheese.  For aging, we recommend either waxing or keeping the rind natural.

There are, however, many folks who age their cheese in vacuum packaging.  To read a forum discussion about the pros and cons, click here.

11. Can I wax cheese I buy at the grocery store?

Yes. The moisture content drives the aging potential. A very dry cheese will be able to age for many years. A moist one will simply get old. A dry English style Cheddar can be aged 2-5+ years as are some of those made in Quebec. Most American Cheddar is designed to be ripe when released for retail.

12. My cheese is building up fluids inside the wax and leaking.

Unfortunately, what you have here is late acid production. Too much whey was left in the curds at the time of molding and the lactose it contained was converted to lactic acid. The acidification of the cheese caused the cheese to squeeze out the whey. The cheese has become very acidic and brittle.

To resolve this in the future, make sure that you watch the time and temperature of stirring, and do not let the curds mat together (make sure you keep them moving in the pot). You may raise the temperature a few degrees, but do not go above 102F. If your temperature is already as high as it can go, cut the curds into smaller pieces and stir them a little longer.

13. All of our hard cheeses are coming out too sharp and dry. There are crevices in the surfaces which allow the wax to seep in.

The crumbly curd is either due to too much acid production (try cutting back on ripening time or starter amount) or stirring the curds too long or at too high a temperature. The drier curds need a lot more pressing (sometimes 2-3-or even 4 times the weight). When we plan to age a Cheddar for 2 years plus, we press to 150-200 lbs.

14. There is mold growing beneath the wax.

Mold is everywhere and, if given the opportunity, will end up on the cheese and grow quite nicely. If you find mold has started to grow on a waxed cheese, either the wax was not hot enough (225-240F) or a small pinhole was left for the mold to enter.

If very serious, this mold should be taken care of ASAP by removing the wax, brushing or scraping the mold from the surface, and giving the cheese a good wiping or scrubbing (depending on how serious) with a cloth soaked in saturated brine. Allow the cheese to dry and then re-wax it. We recommend always doing a double dip when waxing; dip, cool and dip again.

15. It feels as if oil is coming through the wax.

Oil will come out if the temperature is too high. This is butterfat from the milk. Make sure your aging temperature is 52-56F.

16. As soon as I cut into my wheel of cheese, it developed a white mold.

This could be either a fine white mold developing on exposure to air or lactate crystals that sometimes find their way to the surface. Either way, it is not dangerous. Simply wipe the surface with brine carefully.

17. When I took the wax off, my cheese was full of holes and puffy.

This is probably contamination by a late gas producer such as a butyric bacteria. This can develop enough gas to split a cheese in half. It is quite common in areas where silage was improperly prepared or hay was put away too wet. Unfortunately, we recommend discarding this cheese.

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