Make Aged Cheese at Home

Acquire the age-old skill of cheese making by trying your hand at an artful affinage that's less complicated and more satisfying than you'd expect!

  • A fresh cheese, ready to be sealed and placed in a cheese cave to age into something new.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Rows of cheeses sealed with paracoat (cream wax) aging at a goat creamery in Oregon.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Elizabeth Boutin ages a variety of cheeses in a large wine cooler.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • You can place digital gauges inside or outside of your cheese cave.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Don't be alarmed by fuzzy mold growth on aging cheeses—this is part of the process.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Wipe young cheeses gently with a dry cloth, brush, or paper towel to knock down excessive mold growth and create a beautiful, traditional cheese rind. This process will also limit the depth that surface molds will reach into the cheese.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • After wiping, this Manchego-style wheel has a lovely patina on its developing rind.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Plastic food bins can be used to create a more humid environment inside the main aging unit; the author uses Post-it notes to remember what’s inside the bin.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Gisela Claasen vacuum-seals a wheel of bourbon-washed cheddar.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell
  • Use a dedicated slow cooker to wax small cheeses.
    Photo by Gianaclis Caldwell

Nothing is quite so wonderful, so luxurious, and so palate-pleasing as a well-aged cheese. As with wine, it takes time and proper care to mature a young cheese into the ultimate epicurean experience — but you don’t have to be a skilled affineur (the French term for a professional cheese ager) or have access to a high-tech aging room or traditional cheese cave to create superior aged cheeses at home!

The French call the process of aging cheese affinage, which at its core is simply the preservation of milk. Our forebears lacked both refrigeration and a year-round supply of fresh milk. Aged cheeses concentrate and preserve the nutrients in milk in a longer-lasting form. Different styles of aged cheeses evolved depending on the natural conditions — weather, microbes, and more — of the place the cheese was being made. We modern cheesemakers have the luxury of recreating the conditions fit to make the types of cheese we most enjoy, no matter what the outside climate is like.

My, How You’ve Changed

Aging changes a cheese. Fresh cheeses retain much of the character of the milk that made them — aged cheeses, on the other hand, have new depths of flavor and a wider range of textures.

There are three basic approaches to making cheese: adding acid when the milk is hot, as for ricotta and paneer; adding bacteria that produce acid, as for fromage blanc and chèvre; and adding bacteria and coagulant, as for cheddar and gouda. The last category produces the most-complex cheese, and the only type with the potential to age. These cheeses have a low moisture content and a varied supply of enzymes provided by the culture bacteria; the milk; and rennet, the coagulant.

Making a cheese for aging starts with bacteria that ferment lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid and a few other products. Next, rennet (an enzyme traditionally derived from calves’ stomachs, but now available in vegetarian and synthetic forms) is added to coagulate the cheese. The cheese is then drained and pressed to remove excess water. After these relatively quick stages, the enzymatic process really kicks in. During aging, enzymes from the bacteria, the milk, and the rennet work their magic on milk proteins and, to a lesser degree, milk fat. Slowly, they break down these compounds, creating flavor and changing the texture of the cheese.

An Affinity for Affinage

You’ll need to provide your cheese with the proper environment and care for it to thrive during the aging process. The aging environment requires a delicate balance — one that encourages beneficial microbes and enzymes to continue breaking down the proteins and fats, but also discourages spoilage microbes from rotting or disfiguring the cheese. The first step in setting up this scenario is to create a low-moisture cheese with just the right amount of salt. The second step is to create an affinage environment that provides the right temperature, humidity, airflow, and air exchange for desirable processes to occur. I know that sounds complex, but it can be done with relative ease and simplicity at home. Let’s go over the elements that produce fantastic fromage.



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