Age Does Matter – Aging Homemade Cheese

By on 08/05/2012

cheese salt

This post is Part 8 of the continued basic home cheese making instructions. See the Curd Nerd Beginner Page for previous parts.

It’s not always true what they say, that age doesn’t matter.

For cheese, it most certainly does.

Aging (also known as ripening or maturing) is an important part of developing the signature of the particular cheese you are making. It allows time for millions of microbes and enzymes to do their thing, breaking down the proteins and fats into a complex combination of acids that influences how texture, taste and aroma are expressed in your chosen cheese. A longer aging time causes a firmer, more intense cheese, whereas short aging times result in a more mild taste and a softer ‘paste’.

It is also during this evolution that mold rind bloom, ‘eyes’ open to create holes and blue veins branch out.

Cheese is aged after it has been formed in the mold (with a press if required) and in many cases, salted or brined.

Ideal aging times differ depending on the profile of the cheese you are creating.

Fresh cheeses often have little to no aging time, soft cheeses are usually aged for between 2 weeks and 2 months and hard cheeses have longer aging periods starting at a few months and spanning out to 2 years, or more.

How your cheese ages will also differ based on whether you are making a surface ripened cheese like Blue cheese which ripens from the surface in towards the middle of the cheese, or an interior ripened cheese such as Cheddar which does the reverse, ripening from the middle of the cheese outwards to the surface.

Combined with time, and cheese type, your aging environment is the most essential factor for the success of your final cheese and should be carefully controlled to provide the right conditions for your homemade cheeses.

While most of us don’t have access to a cave or cellar, as traditionally used to age cheese, you can still provide a suitable alternative environment and get great results.

Whether using an adapted fridge, a wine fridge or containers and a cool space in the house, as long as you have the fundamentals of a good cheese aging/storage environment in place, you can still enjoy plenty of success with your cheese making:

Temperature

Maintaining correct and consistent temperatures when aging your cheese can mean the difference between failure and fabulous. Most cheeses are aged somewhere between 7° – 14° Celsius. A home fridge is usually set below this range, which is why they’re not suitable for aging cheese. Follow the recipe guidelines for the temperatures required for the type of cheese you are making but also perform checks with a thermometer to make sure your equipment is achieving the right levels and make allowances for any variables unique to your environment.

Humidity

If your cheese aging environment is too dry your cheese will dry out. Too humid and you might attract unwanted molds or end up with other undesirable effects like the dreaded Slip Skin. Depending on the cheese you are making, you will need humidity levels of between 75% and 95%. Getting humidity levels exactly right can be difficult but you should certainly attempt to get them as close as possible if you want a good end product. Similar to a thermometer, a hydrometer will determine if you have a suitably humid environment for your cheeses. To provide different humidity levels for specific cheeses, you can use enclosed containers to create diverse micro-environments. Laying down a clean, wet cloth in the container will add more moisture if required, and closing the container off from the moisture provided in the main part of the environment will reduce it.

Ventilation

Constant, low flow air circulation in your aging environment supports the exchange of gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide and gases emitted from the cheeses) necessary for the proper development of your cheese. Too much air movement will draw moisture from the cheese causing the surface to crack and the cheese to dry out. Appropriate air flow is easy enough to achieve simply by making sure your cheeses are well spaced and your aging environment isn’t overcrowded. If you have a cheese fridge, regularly leave the door open for a short period to let in new, fresh air and crack the lids on any containers as well.

Constant surveillance and maintenance of your aging environment is crucial if you plan to get the best possible results with your home made cheese. Not only do you need to keep an eye on the temperature, humidity and ventilation but you also need to check your cheese regularly for undesirable molds. While some cheeses require the right molds to age true to their ‘design’, unwanted molds can take your cheese from promising to potentially dangerous and spread to your other cheeses if left untamed.

As well as checking for unwanted guests there are also cheeses you will need to turn and flip, cheeses you need to pat and wipe, and cheeses that get carefully washed.

Aging your cheese is not a set and forget step.

But all your love and attention will be well rewarded with delicious, true to type, home made cheese if you are willing to be a little fussy and spend the time.

If you have questions about aging your cheese then please comment below and I, or the Curd-Nerd community, will do our best to help you.

10 Comments

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  3. Kai

    18/10/2012 at 8:47 pm

    Great site full of useful info and tips!

    You mentioned an appropriate space in the house as an alternative to a specific cellar or fridge, i’m wondering if you might be able to suggest something for the beginner who isn’t yet ready for a big investment?

    • curdnerd

      23/10/2012 at 11:35 am

      Hi Kai

      Thanks for your comment.

      The best place to use as an alternative to a cellar or fridge is somewhere in the house that is clean, well aired and holding approximately 10-12 degrees Celsius (50 Fahrenheit) most of the time.

      For me here in NZ, that would be somewhere on the South side of the house, where the sun doesn’t spend much time. I have used the garage (storing my cheese in containers to keep them clear of any contaminates), and also our mud room shower (which doesn’t get used very often). It’s really all about finding somewhere clean and cool : )

  4. jake

    16/11/2012 at 10:12 am

    How long does cheese need to age before it is deemed “safe” when using fresh, raw milk?

    • curdnerd

      17/11/2012 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Jake

      Thanks for you question.

      The answer will depend on the food safety rules for different countries but I know here in New Zealand, raw cheeses must be aged for 60 days before being deemed ‘safe’.

      Perhaps if you tell us where you live, someone else can help with the answer to this question for your area.

  5. Jake

    17/11/2012 at 3:32 pm

    For cheeses made in the US how long must they be aged to be deemed legally safe?

    • curdnerd

      09/02/2013 at 4:28 pm

      Hi Jake

      I believe the aging period is the same in the US, as here in New Zealand, being at least 60 days.

  6. Liz

    14/04/2013 at 10:19 pm

    I live in south of Spain. I have been making cheese for a 3 years now. I use raw goats milk, and make manchego cheese. In winter I first mature the cheese on a suspended crate near a window. its true that to mature cheese you need to turn them every so often and tackle the unwanted mold. In summer I mature them in a old fridge, works well for me as the fridge goes 10c. I open the door of the fridge a couple of times a day to let the unwanted gasses out, When I have a natural rind, I cover the cheese with olive oil, then after 40 to 60 days I place them covered in olive oil in a vacuum sealed bag, and let them mature further like that. I take out of the bag a day or two before I am ready to eat them and let them air, works well for me.

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