Ripening, maturing, or aging cheese are terms that refer to the same process. When you let a recipe sit for the prescribed time, millions of enzymes and microbes start breaking down the fats and proteins in this dairy product.
The aging process produces a complex set of acids that influence the various tastes, textures, and aromas you expect to receive from excellent cheese.
When cheese ages for a significant amount of time, the flavors become intense, and the textures become firmer. It’s a different experience than the fresh cheese products that have a paste-like texture and milder tastes.
Aging allows mold veins to branch out, holes to form, and rinds to bloom. The length of time needed for each cheese recipe varies, but the conditions and processes remain the same.
Factors That Influence the Cheese Aging Process
Most cheese varieties get aged between 7°C to 14°C. You may need a precise temperature available in your cave, fridge, or cellar to ensure your recipe matures correctly. If your home refrigerator allows for a warmer setting, it may work. Always remember to keep a thermometer available to ensure that you stay in control of the variables.
When cheese ages in an environment that is too dry, the product eventually dries out to become nothing. When it is too wet, you’ll get unwanted growth on your product. Most recipes call for humidity levels of 75%, with some going up to 95%. Investing in an excellent hydrometer can help you to know that your environment is ready to start aging some cheese.
Constant air circulation is necessary for your cheese to mature correctly. Each product emits gases that flow with oxygen and carbon dioxide in the area to encourage texture and taste development. If the breeze is too stiff, the outer surface could crack – even if you waxed the item correctly. A low-speed fan or an open door is usually enough to get the movement needed for successful results.
4. Environment Maintenance
You must continuously monitor your cheese environment to ensure the ripening process is progressing as expected. Daily checks are needed for every recipe. Some products may require 2-5 inspections to ensure a successful outcome. When unwanted molds or growth appear, a great-tasting cheese turns potentially dangerous. Some varieties need you to flip the product each day.
If you make cheese from raw milk products, most countries require the product to age for a minimum of 60 days before it is deemed safe to use. Local guidelines may vary, so always remember to follow the rules – especially if you are thinking about selling your homemade cheese.
Cheesemaking is not a make-it-and-forget-it process. When you follow a recipe for an aged variety, the time it takes to produce the intended result can be significant. Although it takes a lot of love and attention, homemade cheese is a delicious reward that you can frequently enjoy when you follow the best aging techniques.