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March 6, 2012 Comments (1) Views: 2181 Good Food Fighters

The Dirt On Cave-Aged Cheese

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese Co, a certified Good Food Fighter

Fifth Town Cheese in Caves
Racks of cheese aging in the cave. Photo courtesy of Becky Lane.

Part II of the story of mould unavoidably concerns caring for mould. The what, where, and how of this process is called Affinage, and the practice has its fair share of skeptics.

At Fifth Town, affinage takes place in our subterranean caves, the only ones in Canada currently. Actual caves have been used for centuries to ripen cheese because they are consistently cool and humid. The romance of cheese caves has less to do with this practical fact and more to do with the mysteries of “Terroir” that cave-aging has traditionally highlighted.

Before modern cheese aging methods, the flavour characteristics of cave-aged cheese would have reflected everything the cave-aging process had to offer; from the material the cheese was shelved on to the moulds naturally present in the surrounding environment. For example, Roquefort cheese is rumoured to have been created by resting on rye while it aged, a grain that naturally harbours Penicillium roqueforti, aka “blue mould”. The most famous cheese regions have played host to caves whose particular micro-climates and mould communities gave birth to many of the cheeses we know and love today.

Much modern cheese production in North America has limited its embrace of regional environmental flavour influences, in favour of a more controlled manufacturing environment. The benefit is a consistent product, able to be produced on a large scale, in a food-safe manner. The potential trade-off is that the manufacturing process leaves little room for the development of serendipitous flavour characteristics.

Brushed Cheese in Fifth Town Dry Cave
Freshly brushed cheese in the dry cave. Photo courtesy of Becky Lane.

Here’s where artisan cheese makers step in. One of the most significant ways artisan cheesemakers have sought to re-incorporate the terroir element of cheesemaking is through affinage. The process can be extremely labour intensive and takes a careful eye. Cheeses are continuously monitored, flipped, brushed, washed, and coated in mixtures of herb, ash, leaves and spirits, until ripe. The goal of all this work is to cultivate delicious moulds and modern aging caves are designed to help. Like their old world counterparts, modern caves are kept cool and humid and, if working properly, foster certain kinds of mould growth. The flora of each cave is carefully maintained and, much like a bakery or brewery, should become permeated with a mixture of local and introduced moulds that go on to shape the flavour of the cheese as it ages.

The labour-intensive nature and somewhat romanticized history of terroir has garnered affinage its naysayers. It certainly makes the cheese more expensive and many of the moulds intentionally introduced to the environment come from freeze-dried packages. However, every spring the cheese in our dry cave blooms the most beautiful pink mould, and our wine-washed Rose Haus reaches a new apex of flavour in autumn when it mysteriously acquires a spattering of blue. At Fifth Town, we say good cheese is good cheese.

Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is located at 4309 County Road 8 in Picton Ontario
613 476 5755
www.fifthtown.ca

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One Response to The Dirt On Cave-Aged Cheese

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