The Ultimate Guide to Waxing Cheese
This helpful guide to waxing cheese will help you to prepare your cheese for the aging process.
We get many questions on waxing cheese as well as requests for help when mold forms under the wax. This article will help answer your questions and guide you through the waxing process. You'll also find some helpful tips for when things do not go as planned when aging cheese.
Questions and Answers on Waxing Cheese
Waxing is perhaps the most convenient way to protect the cheese during aging and keep the cheese moisture in the desired range.
Can I save time using wax?
Yes, if done properly the cheese will be much easier to keep mold free after waxing and the moisture loss will be reduced. Very little needs to be done to a waxed cheese other than maintaining the proper temperature/moisture levels and turning it over on the shelf every week or so. Less time brushing, rubbing and turning cheese.
What about mold? If the mold is removed prior to waxing and the waxing is done properly, mold development under the wax will not be a problem.
The right wax temperature?
As explained below, the wax temperature really needs to reach 224-236F (Please see wax temperature warning below) then held in the wax for at least 6 seconds to "flash" the mold spores. However, some folks do choose to take the safer route and use wax melted in a water bath (as described in Ricki's book) and have great results with that. See below for more details on the two methods.
Which Wax to use?
This is a frequent question here. Our cheese wax is a special microcrystalline wax that will resist cracking and hold up to the daily bumps and bruises of aging cheese. The color of the wax makes no difference, but our "yellow" wax contains no colorant. Paraffin is much too soft and will readily crack during aging, allowing molds to enter and grow on the cheese surface. Bees wax is nice but does not have the strength to survive aging unless handled carefully.
How to Wax Cheese
Clean the Cheese Before Waxing
Once the cheese is formed and pressed, it will need to dry off for a few days at a cool temp with good circulation.
A loose pice of cheesecloth laid over the cheese should keep dust and debris off the cheese but mold may develop as seen here after a week.
Before the cheese can be waxed, the mold needs to be removed. This can be done with a brine wash or vinegar wash. Both high acid and high salt will discourage mold from growing. I prefer the brine wash with ~ 1 tsp salt to a cup of cool water. As you can see in the photos, the mold wipes away easily. Photo at left shows the clean cheese ready for waxing.
The cheese will dry and be ready for waxing in an hour or two.
Waxing at a Lower (Safer) Temperature
We begin here by heating the wax in a pan of water on the stove. This will work if you work quickly and have a very clean cheese surface, but many of our customers do come to us with questions on mold developing under the wax, when it is done this way.
This is the safest method (especially with small children around).
Once the wax is hot, you may begin applying wax with a brush. It is a good idea to put a piece of aluminum foil down to catch the drips between wax pot and cheese. The key here is to work quickly and use plenty of wax on the brush to get a good cover coat. Do not over brush. Do the top surface and as much of one side as you can get, then allow this to harden before doing the remaining cheese surface. Give it at least a second coat to make sure a good protective layer is created.
This method will allow a smaller quantity of wax to be used since only a container large enough to dip the brush in is needed. It is, however, a bit messier since the brush is difficult to clean.
- Pros: This method usually requires less wax to be heated (just enough to dip the brush and coat the cheese) and it is safer since the wax is never heated to a dangerous temperature.
Cons: The temperature is not hot enough to kill the mold spores and mold may develop under the wax. If the cheese is dried in a clean environment covered with a sanitized dry cloth this may not be a problem.
Using this method, the wax will never reach much more than 198-204F since boiling water can only reach 212F and some heat is lost in transfer. This may not be enough to kill the mold spores if they find their way to the cheese surface.
Cleaning the Brush
Immediately after waxing scrape brush accumulation of wax on the edge of the melting pot and while still very hot wipe as much wax from brush as possible with rags or paper towels. Discard these papers/rags when done. The brush will still be stiff but can be easily softened in hot wax for next waxing.
Store the wax covered and the brush in a bag to keep dust out between waxings.
Waxing at a Higher Temperature
While the cheese dries you can begin heating the wax.
Please read through out CAUTION STATEMENT below on direct heating of wax on the stove.
In the pictures below I have heated my wax to 224-236F. At this temperature the wax is extremely hot and remember, it is not like boiling water since it is much hotter and the wax will stick and retain that heat. Work cautiously and make sure you have a good grip on the cheese before dipping.
The first thing to do after heating the wax is to turn the burner off and place a piece of foil on the stove or work surface to catch the drips (MUCH easier to clean up). Dip the top of the cheese, let that cool, then dip the bottom. Once these surfaces are cool rotate one half of the cheese edge in the wax, let that cool, and then wax the other half.
I always do a double dip when waxing - dip - cool - dip again.
When finished, simply allow the wax to cool and then store it covered on the shelf to keep dust out.
Pros: This method will kill the mold spores on the cheese surface so that you should have little trouble with mold growing under the wax. Also, there is no messy brush to clean.
Cons: You MUST use CAUTION when heating wax directly on the burner. This also uses more wax then the first method since the entire cheese surface needs to be dipped into the wax.
In the Cheese Cave
Once waxed, the cheese can be stored in your aging area, but the proper temperature and moisture levels (usually 52-56F and 85% moisture) need to be maintained.
You should continue to turn the cheese weekly and check for any mold growing under the wax.
What to do if Mold Develops Under the Wax
If you find mold has started to grow on a waxed cheese, either the surface was not heated hot enough during the waxing to kill off the mold (wax too cold) or a small pinhole was left for 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/scrubbing (depending on how serious) with a cloth soaked in saturated brine. The cheese should be allowed to dry and then re-waxed.
How to Clean Up Cheese Wax
The key to waxing is to dedicate cheap utensils and pots to it so you never have to clean them. The best job of cleaning though is very hot water to melt the wax then quickly wipe w/ paper towels and discard. The final surface can then be cleaned with a solvent like turpentine etc.
A Warning on Heating Wax
Wax when heated will reach a point where vapors accumulate and may ignite with life threatening results.
I am aware that Ricki says in her book to melt the wax in a double boiler, but in effect, there is a problem with that. The wax will not be hot enough to destroy the mold on the cheese surface and enough air can get through for this mold to grow under the wax. I think she is most concerned with the safety of her customers.
To be most successful at preventing mold the wax needs to reach a temp of 225-240F and the cheese dipped for at least 6 seconds.
The BIG PROBLEM here is that you really need to control the temperature because if the wax gets hotter it might reach it's flash point and catch on fire.
Our supplier gives the flash point as 400F, but I would err on the side of caution and keep it in the range described above.
*** A wax fire is Extremely dangerous and water WILL NOT put it out***
To limit the potential danger here, I use a heavy pot with a candy thermometer and control the wax temps carefully. Others simply get an old electric fry pan, get the wax up to this temp, and tape the temp control dial in place.
It may seem to take a long time to get the wax to go from solid to liquid, but once it has liquefied, the temperature will rise sharply. Make it a habit to constantly monitor the temperature of your wax. If that wax reaches the flash point, then the vapors produced are extremely flammable. The flash point of wax is typically above 300° F. Never let your wax exceed 250F.
Never leave the wax unattended on the stove.
Waxing Cheese Infographic
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