This summer has been a cheese adventure. I have been experimenting with various recipes, perfecting some and tossing others. Since I now have such a glorious variety of cheeses aging in my “cave”, I thought it would be a good time for a cheese update!
But first, a brief introduction to my “cave”:
Cheese needs to age at temperatures too high for your fridge, but too cool for your countertop (especially if your countertop, like mine, is located in an un-airconditioned basement apartment in Virginia). Luckily for me, and other home cheesemakers, you can easily purchase an aftermarket temperature control for your refrigerator. It has a probe, a dial for setting the temperature, and a plug. My only complaint is that it is not very precise (varying about 8 degrees), but for my purposes this year thats splitting hairs. Using this device, an old refrigerator makes an excellent aging “cave” for cheese with one major issue: humidity.
The compressor in a refrigerator cools by condensing the water in your fridge and removing it (which is why your lettuce wilts, incidentally). This is terrible news for cheese, which prefers an aging environment between 85 and 95% humidity (thus, caves are perfect for aging cheese). My snazzy temperature control device only turns on the refrigerator when it gets above the set temperature, meaning that the compressor runs much less frequently than in a normal fridge and the humidity stays higher. So everything was going swimmingly this winter, when the basement hovered around 60-65 degrees and the fridge hardly worked at all. Fast forward to the summer and the compressor has to come on more frequently, and my poor cheeses are struggling for their lives.
Humidity is especially critical for two types of cheese which I am working to perfect for next season: blue cheese, and bloomy rinds (think Brie or Camembert). If the cave environment is too dry instead of a smooth, creamy cheese you get a hard little brick. After having lost a number of batches of both blue cheese and my little bloomy rind chèvres (hit particularly hard due to their small size and resulting high surface area to volume ratio), I began experimenting with containers. Much like how a crisper drawer works, by putting the cheese in a smaller, closed environment (i.e. a tupperware), more moisture from the cheese itself is trapped in and thus the humidity stays relatively high. This seems to work fairly well, and has the added bonus of segregating different types of mold ripened cheeses to avoid cross-contamination (turns out blue mold and white mold aren’t picky about which cheeses the colonize, even if you are).
And with that (not so brief after all) introduction to the cave, I give you…the cheeses!
This is the summer of experimentation, so I have lots of variety at the moment. I would like to have one hard, aged cheese to sell next year and am searching for a recipe that I like. The problem with this type of cheese is that you have to wait as long as 6 months sometimes to see how they turn out- it makes experimenting pretty difficult. Currently, I have three varieties residing in the cave (clockwise from left): a Caerphilly (a crumbly Welsh cheese), cheddar, and a Manchego, rubbed with olive oil.
I have pretty much perfected my bloomy rind chèvre recipe (clever, creative name to come later- suggestions accepted!), with the exception of the humidity problem. Now that I have a recipe I am happy with, I am fine tuning it by trying different strains of the white mold to see which gives the best flavor profile. This is the first of four batches with different strains of mold:
In addition to a bloomy rind and plain & herbed chèvre, I would like to make a blue cheese for market next year. As mentioned before, humidity has been my enemy in this endeavor, but I think I have finally thwarted him! By using tupperware containers I am finally able to keep blue cheese moist. Unfortunately, the first cheese I made after that discovery I let overripe because I made the mistake of following the recipe directions exactly. I won’t let that happen this time! Here are two blues I currently have on the go- you can see they are at very different stages of development. The one on the left is new, and as such as no blue mold growth yet. The other is well coated in mold and has holes punched in it to allow the blue veining to grow inside. Yum!
And finally, a couple of other little cheese that I have currently aging are seen below. The first, a recipe called O’Bannon, is a small round of soft cheese wrapped in grape leaves soaked in whiskey! The other, Valençay, is a small pyramid shaped French cheese that is covered in vegetable ash and then white mold is allowed to grow through.
We definitely have our tasting work cut out for us this fall!