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Becoming Your Own Affineur: Aging Cheese at Home

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When it comes to cheese professionals, at least here in France, there are two main categories: the cheese makers, who work with the animals and make their own cheese, and the cheese mongers, who sell cheese. Somewhere between the two exists the third category of affinage. Sometimes carried out by the maker and other times by the seller, this aging process is integral to giving cheese its flavor and texture... and you can do it at home.

What is affinage?

Ever tasted the difference between an aged cheddar and a regular storebought cheddar? It's almost not the same cheese... and this is mostly due to affinagean aging process that allows foods like cheese, wine and meat to get better with age. It's controlled, so that you don't end up spoiling the food, and it adds flavor and texture to whatever food you choose to age.

How can you do it at home?

Aging cheese at home is actually relatively simple, and it allows you to control the depth of flavor in your cheese.

Firstly, you need a caveor equivalent of an aging cellar. This is actually relatively simple to track down. You can use an old fridge or a cooler, as long as you can maintain the temperature; aging cheese should happen at around 42° and 52°F. Many people simply use their garage, which is perfect if it's cooler than your home. You cannot effectively age cheese in your regular refrigerator; it's too cold!

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Secondly, you need to cover your cheese. The cheeses need to be placed in closed containers like Tupperware, but they also need room to breathe. You should have about 50 percent empty space for 50 percent of cheese, and the bottoms of the containers, where the cheeses are placed, should first be covered with bamboo or reed mats, so that the bottoms of the cheeses do not get damp.

Thirdly, you need to babysit your cheeses. Some cheese likes to be in a more moist environment. Other cheeses, particularly hard cheeses, need to breathe more and may even need to sit out on the counter for a day or two. Be sure to wipe away any condensation that accumulates on the inside of the container, and allow the cheese to breathe once a day. Turn the cheese so that the top and bottom are alternately sitting on the bottom of the container. 

Good Cheeses to Start With

Some cheeses are easier to home-age than others. For first-timers, try:

- Fresh, raw goat's cheeses. Modify professional goat cheese aging processes in your home cave for perfectly aged goat cheese.

- Hard cheeses and semisoft cheeses, like cheddar cheese or Swiss cheese. Bathe the rinds of the cheeses with a paper towel soaked in a salt and vinegar solution to stave off mold growth, and after a few weeks, a rind will begin to form.

Consider hosting a cheese tasting party, to show off your newly aged cheeses. Serve them with homemade caramelized onion jam for a decadent treat. If you can't wait that long, you could also serve some of your aged cheeses with our very own herbed fresh goat cheese.

Image: Rebecca Siegel

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