The first time I met with my cheesemaking group and one of them mentioned affinage, I had to ask what it meant. Affinage, my cheesemaking friends explained, is the process of aging cheeses. Okay, I said, and then I spent the next year studiously avoiding the word because it’s French and I can’t pronounce French words to save my life, and because most of my cheeses were vac-packed: in their little plastic biomes, there was no mold, no rind, no excitement, so I didn’t feel like I was affinaging anything.
But then I did that Full Moon Blue and, the barrier broken, I shot out of the starting gate like my hair was on fire. I bought big, see-through, round plastic food storage containers from Webstaurant (not cheap but TOTALLY worth it) and promptly filled them with wheels of cheese.
Currently, here’s what I’m affinaging (oh-la-la!):
Jarlsberg-Style: I wondered if vac-packing was curbing eye development, and if I might be brining for too long (too much salt inhibits eye development), so I decided to attempt a natural rind from start to finish. I’ve had trouble with the rind being too soft/wet, but I think it’s finally stabilizing. . . and the cheese is now at room temp and beginning to swell.
Double Gloucester: Thus far, this one is my favorite cheddar-style cheese so I decided to make it with a natural rind to see if that would add more nuance to the flavor. I’m mostly just brushing or dry rubbing the rind to keep the molds at bay. It’s looking pretty gnarly.
Smackered: I created this cheese — smacked down with a board to give it curved sides (it didn’t really work) and then ale-rubbed with a pinch of b.linens. I think I did pretty much everything wrong. It has a rash of mildew spots, I didn’t wash it frequently enough, and the b.linens never really took off, but I used the cheese corer to sample it last week and it was lovely. Which brings up the next question: when is it done aging? I have no idea. (Probably when I need the aging box for a new cheese, ha!)
Unnamed, #121: Washed curd, a little salt added to the curds and whey, brined, and ale rubbed. The rind was smooth and pinkish until dusty tan-blue molds took over. It smells like cool gravel and kinda reminds me of southwestern colors and climate.
Raclette: I am beyond excited about this one. The rind is wildly sticky-stinky (the other day when I told my husband to smell it, he took a whiff and then dry-heaved) and the most gorgeous peachy-pink. I’m not at all sure I can wait the full three months before tasting it.
Gouda: I rubbed this one with a Belgian ale and it has a golden honey color and sweet, nutty-yeasty smell that’s driving me wild. I’ve switched from the ale rubs to a twice-a-week light salt brine rub. Thus far, it’s pretty darn perfect.
Affinage is incredibly laborious. Flipping a cheese might sound like no big deal, but consider the following tasks:
*shlepping cheeses up from the cellar and then back down again
*washing (or brushing/wiping) the rinds
*maintaining a cheese-turning schedule
*daily observation, researching, and troubleshooting
*monitoring humidity levels and temperature
*thinking, thinking, thinking
It takes up an awful lot of brain space, these cheeses do. I don’t know exactly what I’m going for, or what I’ll do with the cheese when I get there, or whether or not I want to replicate the same cheese or do something different (and if so, what?). The accute and perpetual state of cluelessness and uncertainty is exhausting. The cheeses are heavy and smelly and weird and my head hurts from thinking and I have no idea if I’m on the right track.
So next time you see an artisanal cheese that you think is exorbitantly overpriced, know this: it’s not.
This same time, years previous: perimenopause: Deirdre, age 46, ham and bean soup, pozole, salad dressing: a basic formula, doing stupid safely, all the way under, homemade grainy mustard, lemon cream cake, the quotidian (1.19.15), cream cheese dip.