Ok, so perhaps that’s a bad play on words but it’s what comes to mind EVERY time I’m waxing my cheeses.
Anyway, let’s move on from that terrible start and talk about one of the methods of preserving your aging cheeses – waxing.
A lot of people shy away from waxing their cheese because the whole process can seem a little technical and messy. But once you give it a go a few times it becomes a lot easier and the benefits start to outweigh the effort.
Cheese Wax is a speciality wax used for preserving cheese. Unlike 100% paraffin based wax it remain soft and pliable even when set and can easily be peeled away from the cheese without the wax cracking or crumbling in brittle pieces.
It is coloured with food grade colouring and commonly comes in Red, Yellow and Black. The colour doesn’t matter but a lot of people prefer the yellow as it obviously has less colouring in it.
Benefits Of Waxing Cheese
As I mentioned, waxing your cheese preserves it while it is aging. It prevents mold from growing on the surfaces and it also helps to retain the moisture in the cheese. Once you have waxed your cheese there won’t be any mold washing or worrying about anything other than turning the cheese regularly, keeping it in the right conditions and eating it when it is ready.
Waxing is best suited to hard, drier cheeses. Attempting to wax a softer, moist cheese can end in disaster so don’t assume ALL cheeses can be waxed.
Step By Step – How To Wax Cheese
Before you start, make sure your cheese has been chilled if it has not come straight from the fridge. This will help the wax stick and set.
I use the direct heat method for melting wax but if you are nervous about melting your wax on a direct heat you can use the double boiler method (one pot inside of another pot with boiling water). It is definitely safer because you remove the risk of the wax or vapors igniting but it can be difficult to get the wax up to temperature this way and often molds will grow under the wax shell. Do what feels most comfortable for you. If you opt for the direct heat method please exercise caution, do not overheat the wax, stay alert and NEVER leave your wax unattended. Flash fires do happen.
Use old pots or buy cheap pots that can be kept for use for waxing only.
Heat the wax to approximately 120 degrees celcius. You need it hot enough to kill any bacteria on the cheese surface but not so hot it explodes.
Turn the heat off as soon as the wax has reached temperature. This can often be spotted by the wax going quite clear.
Use a natural bristle brush (synthetic will frizzle up) and starting on one side, brush the wax onto the cheese evenly until the cheese is completely covered. You will need to do 2 or 3 coats (letting each layer harden between coats) to make sure all parts of the cheese is sealed and no air holes are left. Be generous with your painting.
Get pots that are large enough in size to let you dip your cheese right into and again, can be used only for cheese waxing.
Very carefully (wearing sanitised rubber gloves) dip your cheese into the wax, top then bottom surface, then roll the cheese edge through the wax half way, let it set then roll the other edge through half way. Again, 2 or 3 coats will make sure all of the cheese is sealed and no air is available for mold growth and I normally hold my cheese under for 4-5 seconds so the mold spores are properly killed off.
Once you have coated the cheese, write or print a label out with the cheese type and the make date on it and, using the wax, stick the label onto the cheese. The paper will stick to wet wax and if you paint another sealing layer over the label it will allow you to identify what the cheese is without any problems later on.
Extra Waxing Tips
If you have a large block of cheese and don’t think you’ll eat the whole thing in a week, cut your block up into wedges before waxing so you have sizes that you can enjoy fresh and don’t end up throwing away a larger block when it goes off.
Lay down wax paper or tin foil when waxing. Wax makes a heck of a mess and can be difficult to get off surfaces.
Take precautions to keep the hot wax off your skin. Wax holds its temperature when it sticks to something and will make a nasty burn if it is in contact with your skin.
Dipping the cheese definitely makes for a more aesthetically pleasing cheese but it does take more wax to do it since you need enough to submerge the cheese half way down.
Make sure your cheese is sufficiently dry before waxing. It should have a slightly hardened rind and be a darker yellow than when it was first pressed. It should be dry to the touch.
Reusing Cheese Wax
When you are ready to eat your cheese, remove the wax and rinse it off. Then melt it down and strain through a piece of fine cheese cloth to remove any hangers on. As long as it is brought up to the right heat next time any nasties will be killed and the wax will be fine for reuse.
In future posts I will talk about other methods of preserving and protecting your cheese including bandaging, oiling and vacuum packing.
If you have any thoughts or questions about cheese waxing, post in comments below! I’d love to hear from you.