The first lesson that cheesemakers learn is how to age each variety correctly. Although some differences exist in modern cheesemaking, the ancestral practices of using ash or pine boards still remain.
Pine boards are the preferred choice because the wood absorbs whatever excess moisture remains in the cheese. It produces a consistent product even if you don’t follow the recipe exactly.
The wood allows the microbes in the cheese to establish reseeding colonies for the surface molds needed during the aging process. It can also prevent listeria from forming on some varieties.
When you need mold development from high moisture, plastic boxes are the best tool to use.
How to Create a Practical Cheese Cave
A cheese cave is like a combination of a walk-in refrigerator and a closet that stores what you make. The time it spends drying and curing ensures that you receive the flavor and consistency each time.
When you install pine boards in your cheese cave, you must ensure that the wood air dries. Any lingering moisture can put unwanted stains in the cheese.
Knots and resin processing spots can retain more moisture than the standard grain. If you don’t want to wait 2-3 weeks for the board to dry entirely, choose ones that have minimal faults for your cheese cave.
The best pine boards are about two centimeters thick.
Why Aging Boards Should Be Away from a Wall
When you place cheese close to a wall or other products, it increases the risk of mold development. You want lots of air running over your bricks and wheels to keep everything moving toward a mature product.
As you place each cheese on the pine boards, it helps to place a small mat underneath each piece. This step encourages more air to flow between the shelves and each product, encouraging a firm, dry rind for aged varieties.
You can use basic shelving boards when making small cheese products. Anything made for mass consumption typically needs a custom rack where the entire wheel can age appropriately.
The size of your cheese cave dictates what varieties to make and how long they can age. If you don’t have much room, fast-drying options allow you to keep enjoying new types.
Do Wood Boards Harbor Unwanted Bacteria?
Large-scale cheese producers use stainless steel and plastic cheese boards to encourage more air circulation. Local regulations may require an easily cleanable surface with smoothness, thereby preventing the use of wood.
Some communities allow cheesemakers to use hardwoods for the aging process because fewer absorption issues occur. You may even need to have boards held at pasteurization temperatures to reuse them in your cheese cave.
If pine or ash boards are not available, cedar, oak, spruce, birch, and bamboo are still excellent choices to use. Beech and larch are fine if you don’t have any other option.
A cheese cave should not use teak or walnut because the boards will change the flavor of the cheese. Redwood, maple, and mahogany must be avoided because of their staining tendencies.
Most cheesemakers clean their board with hot water and a brush. Don’t use detergents because the fragrances can get into the wood and your future cheese batches. Then you can keep using them in your cave to produce excellent cheese!