Why Aging is So Important

Photo Credit: Spirited Rose Homestead Dairy Farm

Why Aging is So Important

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For cheese specifically, age does matter, and it matters a lot. Aging cheese, also referred to as ripening or maturing, is an important part of developing the flavor and overall texture for many cheeses.

During the aging process, millions of microbes and enzymes are able to break down proteins and fats into a complex combination of acids. All of this influences the texture, taste, and aroma in the cheese.

The longer cheeses are able to age the firmer the cheese will become and the more intense the flavors will be. The shorter the aging time, the more mid and the softer the cheese will be.

It also during the aging process that mold rinds develop in cheeses like Camembert and Brie and eyes or holes are created in cheeses like Swiss.

The aging process normally occurs after the cheese has been formed into the mold and pressed if required. Most times, the cheese is then salted or brined prior to aging and the aging time required depends on the profile of the cheese you are making.

Fresh Cheeses

Fresh cheeses normally have little to not aging time.

Soft Cheeses

Usually aged between 2 weeks to 2 months

Hard Cheeses

Have longer aging periods starting between a few months to aging 2 years or more.

Certain cheeses also ripen differently.

Blue Cheese

Ripens from the surface in towards the middle of the cheese.

Cheddar Cheese

Ripens from the middle of the cheese outwards to the surface.

Typically, aging takes place in a designated aging station. This is because the humidity and temperature have to be specifically controlled for different cheeses during the aging process. Some people purchase a cheese fridge which is essentially the same thing as a wine fridge. We recommend this one. If you don’t have a cheese fridge, you just need to find a cool space in the house and as long as it has the fundamentals of a good cheese aging area, you will be good to go!

Conditions that Affect the Aging of Cheese

Temperature

Your ability to maintain the same and correct temperature during the aging process can hugely impact your cheese and determine if your cheese will be a success or failure. Most cheeses are happy between 45-57°F. A typical home fridge usually is set below that temperature, which is why a lot of people opt for a ‘cheese fridge.’

It’s important to also monitor your cheese temperature using a thermometer. This will help ensure that the equipment is at the right levels and that your cheese is truly at the right temperature as well.

Humidity

Your cheese needs to have the right moisture levels or humidity for your cheese to turn out well. Too humid and you will probably develop some unwanted molds or with something like Slip Skin. Both are extremely undesirable. Depending on the type of cheese, normally humidity needs to be between 75-95%.

Although achieving the perfect humidity levels can be challenging, it is necessary, and therefore you should attempt to get as closely as possible to the required levels. You can use a hydrometer to test and make sure that your humidity is at the right levels.

Also using enclosed containers can help achieve the proper humidity for your cheese as well. It helps to lay down a wet cloth in the container to add more moisture if required and then close the container off from the moisture outside of the container with a lid to reduce the humidity levels.

Ventilation

Constant, low flow air circulation is important component of your aging environment since it helps to promote the exchange of gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide and other gases emitted from the cheeses. It’s a necessary process in the development of the cheese.

However, oo much air movement will draw out too much moisture and leave your cheese dry and with a cracked surface.

Achieving the right amount of airflow is fairly easy to do. All you need to do is ensure that your cheeses are well spaced out in the aging environment, so it’s important to avoid overcrowding. If you have a cheese fridge, you can leave the door open every now and again for a short period to get some additional fresh air in the fridge. You can also open the enclosed containers a crack if you’re using them for a little bit as well.

Maintaining Your Cheese Environment

Constant surveillance and maintenance of your aging environment is so important. When your aging environment is up to standard, your result of your cheese will be so much better. You need to monitor all the conditions that affect the aging cheese, but you also need be checking on any molds that are developing as well.

While a few cheeses require molds to grow during the aging process like Camembert, Brie and Blue cheese, some molds are actually dangerous and should be avoided. It’s important that you catch these molds quickly and get rid of them as soon as possible to avoid having to dispose of your whole cheese.

It’s important that just like pressing your cheese, in the aging process, you turn, flip, and wipe down your cheese.

You can learn more about molds in our post: All About Cheese Mold

You Cannot Forget About Aging Cheese

Cheese can age for years. With that in mind, it may be easy to simply forget about your cheese, but that’s the last thing you should do. Cheesemaking, including aging, is an ongoing process that must be monitored.

It’s important to keep checking in on your cheese every few days or as per the recipes instructions and make sure your cheese aging environment is up to standard.

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