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Zen and the Art of Cheese Maintenance

November 17, 2013

People often ask me how long it takes to make cheese. Well, do you mean how long it takes to actually make it? Or how long until it’s ready to eat? I usually set aside a whole day to make a cheese, from milk to wheel (sometimes that involves setting an alarm to get up in the middle of the night to finish flipping it or to drop it in some brine). That’s the (relatively) quick and fun part. But the long period of aging is what really makes a cheese. And it’s interesting, and requires some skill and science, but it’s not always fun.

I have four cheeses aging at the moment. That’s about the most I’ve had going at once and they’ve kind of got me stressed out. The problems aren’t major, but when I consider the amount of time I still have to keep a few of them healthy and stable, it’s a bit daunting. So, this morning I did some major cheese maintenance in an effort to stay on the right track:

Photo 2Camembert:
This is the cheese I made to take to Thanksgiving dinner in a couple of weeks. I’ve never had trouble with Camembert before. That’s one reason why I chose to make it; easy, but impressive. Unfortunately, this time it’s being a bit difficult. It’s fine, really, it just has some bald spots. A bit of the mange? I don’t know why it’s happening, but the mold growth is a bit sparse and the edges of the wheel have darkened to a vaguely parchment hue. When the cheeses first began to get a healthy coat of mold, weeks ago, I wrapped them in cheese paper, as you do, but they quickly soaked through the paper. I think in the places where the soggy paper contacted the cheese, the mold coating was compromised. I unwrapped them and they’ve been aging, au naturale, for the past few weeks, but the mold has never come back in spots. They seem to be less damp now, so today I wrapped one wheel to see if it would stay dry. Maybe the mold will get going better under the paper. At least there’s no “weird” mold growing, but the P. Candidum could step up its game a bit. We’ve got 13 hungry cheese-eaters to impress on Thanksgiving Day!

Photo 1Gouda:
The Gouda is for the League of Urban Cheesemakers’ January meeting. I was really pleased with how the make went and am experimenting with coating the wheels in coconut oil while they age. (You can read about that here.) The problem is, I made Stilton at about the same time and for a while it was in an aging box in the cave with the Gouda. Penicillium Roqueforti – blue cheese mold – can be pretty aggressive at colonizing and the other day I found blue mold under the oil on my Gouda. Since the coconut oil makes a solid coating, I chipped it off where I could see dark spots underneath, scraped off the mold, sprayed a little white vinegar on the spot, and re-oiled. The blue mold is tenacious though and keeps coming back, so now I’m playing whack-a-mole… err, whack-a-mold… with it. Today, I got a little fed up though and after Lysoling the inside of my cave, I took most of the oil off each wheel, scrubbed them up with a brine-soaked sponge, sprayed vinegar, sprinkled salt, and re-oiled. One spot was particularly bad and the mold had gone down a crevice into the interior of the wheel. I started digging it out with the point of a knife, but the divet was unsightly, so I opted to amputate and just carved off one corner of the wheel until the mold was gone. I know, it’s probably terrible cheese craft, but what’s done is done and I hope the mold is now in remission. On the bright side, I got to chew on a few of the pieces I lopped off and it tastes great. If I can keep the P. Roqueforti at bay until January, I’ll have some very nice Gouda. If not, perhaps I’ve invented a new varietal… which I shall call “Blouda.”

The Stilton is past due. It had its moment at the last League of Urban Cheesemaker’s meeting, but as I explained in that post, it’s so ugly I’m having trouble getting rid of the second wheel. Now that its P. Roqueforti mold has colonized my cave, I moved the wheel to my regular fridge. Hopefully, the colder temperature will keep the mold in better check and it won’t colonize there, too. Basically, the cheese seems stable though. It doesn’t appear to be getting any moldier (would that even be possible), and is just hanging out, being hideous. My Dad actually volunteered to try it, so I’m hoping it lasts another few weeks until I can take it home for Thanksgiving. I wrapped it in foil, because I’ve heard many Blues are stored that way (I still haven’t figured out why though), and put it in a tupperware. At this point, I’m mostly worried about it losing more moisture, since it is already very dry. So, hopefully, the foil and container help keep it status quo… and my family will be brave enough to try it once they’ve seen the Blue Monster face to face.
I made Lavender Chevre earlier this week for my book club. I’ll tell you more about it once we eat it next week. It’s the one cheese that is not giving me anxiety though. It’s just sitting pretty until next Tuesday. It’s in my regular fridge, but as far away as possible from the crazy Stilton, you can be sure. I roll the log every once in a while, just so it doesn’t sit in a puddle of moisture or get too flat on one side. I have high hopes for it. Go, goat, go!

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 18, 2013 12:05 am

    This is possibly my favorite post ever (well, that goes to the groaning cheese, but this is close). This is like a window into the mind of the cheesemaker. And who can’t love that Stilton??? A face only a mother could adore, I suppose, but I want to try some, too. Wish I could apparate to your Thanksgiving.

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