Hard cheeses need to be aged for at least one month (and usually for 4-6 months) to fully develop their flavour. Here is everything the DIY cheese-maker needs to know about aging hard cheese in their own home.
Note: This post on aging hard cheese is part of a series of posts on cheesemaking. Check out How to make cheese at home for a complete list of topics.
Caves are rooms or containers where wheels of hard cheese can age under the right conditions. If you plan on making a lot of cheese, you can buy a Cave (affiliate link.) Alternatively, you can use a cold room, cellar or garage. A bar fridge or wine cooler are both great at maintaining the correct temperature. The trick to a good cave is to maintain the following conditions:
- A temperature range between 45-55F (10-15C).
- Humidity levels between 75 – 95 RH. This is a higher than average humidity, as ideal indoor humidity levels are usually in the range of 50 RH. Owning a $10 hygrometer/thermometer will help.
- Humidity levels are less important when aging waxed cheeses, as the wax seals in the moisture.
- To maintain the proper humidity when aging bandaged or washed cheeses, age the cheese in a large, sterilized plastic container. Wrap the lid in a tea towel to prevent accumulated moisture from dripping off the lid onto the cheese.
- The cheese should either sit on a cheese mat, sushi mat or a piece of wood to allow air to flow underneath the cheese.
Wax is the traditional rind for many types of cheese; including, cheddar and Gouda. Here’s how to wax your own homemade cheese.
- Be sure to keep your hands and everything else sterile throughout the waxing process.
- After pressing, allow the cheese wheel to dry out at room temperature for 2-4 days. Turn the cheese over twice a day to ensure even drying. You will know that the cheese is dry enough when it no longer feels moist. (See picture above.) It is time to wax, when the cheese is dry to the touch.
- Use cheese wax (not just bees wax) and buy a cheap metal bowl to melt it in because it will never come clean after being used for wax.
- Melt wax slowly over a double boiler. Be careful because cheese wax is highly flammable. Turn on the hood fan to pull the fumes of the melting wax away from the hot burner.
- Heat the wax to 240 F / 115 C before coating the cheese. This is hot enough to kill any mold or bacterial spores that might be on the surface of the cheese.
- Dip the cheese several times to fully coat your wheel in a nice even layer of wax. I had to rotate my wheel to get a full coverage. (See picture below.)
- Place the waxed cheese in the cave to age. Turn the wheel over daily for the first month, then weekly for the remaining period of aging. This will prevent any excess moisture from building up on one side of the cheese.
- Cheese wax can be reused. Simply clean the wax with soap and water then add it back to your melting pot.
A bandaged rind is definitely my favourite. I love the way I don’t need to worry about the mold growing on it, and it is much easier than waxing cheese.
- Bandage wrap cheese wheels immediately after pressing. Don’t let the cheese dry out.
- Cut 2 long rectangular strips of butter muslin and 4 circles of butter muslin. You want them to be a bit larger than your wheel of cheese so that the bandage can completely wrap around the cheese.
- With clean hands, rub a layer of lard or butter over the cheese, then wrap the wheel in one layer of the muslin, carefully smoothing it out so that it is a nice flat layer. I find it easiest to rub lard on only one side at a time so that I don’t have to work with a whole wheel of slippery cheese. (See picture above.)
- Once the cheese is completely covered in the first layer of muslin, then rub the cheese in lard again and apply a second layer of muslin. You can repeat this process for up to 4 layers of muslin bandaging, but I usually do 2 layers.
- Age the cheese on a cheese mat in your cave. Turn daily for the first month, then weekly after that point. Many different kinds of mold will grow on the outside of the bandage. This will add to the flavour of the cheese and protect the cheese from drying out. It will all come off when you remove the bandage. (See the first picture of moldy bandaged-wrapped cheese below).
- The cheese is finished when the mold has dried out. Then just peel off the bandage and enjoy!
Here is the same wheel of bandaged wrapped cheese. The first picture is of the fresh mold. In the second picture, the mold has dried out and the cheese is ready for eating.
Washed Rind Cheeses
Washed rinds are the most difficult rind to maintain, however, many, many cheeses have a washed rind. It is great for flavour development, which is why most strong tasting cheeses have a washed rind (like Parmesan and Asiago.)
- Make a salt brine of 2 lbs of cheese salt in 1 gallon of water.
- Immediately after pressing, put the wheel of cheese into the salt brine.
- After 24 hours remove the cheese from the brine (saving the brine for washing). With a clean cloth, pat the cheese dry. (You can sterilize cloths by steaming them over a pot of boiling water for 15 minutes).
- Move the cheese wheel to the cave and let it age on a cheese mat.
- Turn the cheese daily for the first month, then once a week after that. Every 3 days, wipe the cheese down with the leftover brine solution. This will keep the cheese moist and encourage the right type of bacteria to grow.
- Most salt-washed cheese develop an orange coloured mold. However, it could also grow brown, white or green mold. None of these molds are harmful as long as they stay on the outside of the cheese. This link on Surface Defects will tell you what to do if the wrong type of mold is growing on your cheese.