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The Scrubbing of the Cheese

June 15th, 2010
Are we really going to eat that? Monchacha, before and after.
Are we really going to eat that? Monchacha, before (on right) and after.

We age our hard cheeses in the cellar, in a screened cabinet that Karl made to keep out nibbling critters. The house has a stone foundation, and though one side opens onto a hill, most of the cellar is underground and stays pretty consistently cool and damp. It’s not a steady 55 degrees with a relative humidity between 65 and 85 percent (the ideal conditions for aging a hard cheese), but usually it’ll do.

This spring, however, it’s been unseasonably warm, with enough rain to leave standing pools in some corners of the basement. We have an abundance of milk, but I haven’t made a lot of hard cheeses because the conditions just haven’t been right for aging them. We did make a couple of Monchachas at May’s cheese workshop, though, and this morning I went down to check on them. The heat and humidity had combined to give them each a luxurious coating of blue fur.

According to Ricki Carroll, whose book, Home Cheese Making, I consult for all things cheese-related, unwanted mold can be removed by rubbing the cheese rind with lightly salted water, so I made some brine and got to work. Some of the mold was so stubborn that it needed to be scrubbed off with a vegetable brush, but once they were cleaned, the cheeses didn’t look half bad.

We had a similar problem late last summer, when it was a bit too wet and warm, and we did a couple rounds of scrubbings to all the cheeses in a full cabinet.  When we were finally brave enough to crack one open, beneath the rind was a fine tasting cheese. (Though I wouldn’t recommend eating the rind.) Perhaps one of these days, we’ll build a proper temperature-and-humidity-controlled cave, but until then we can live with a little mold. To some it may be fur, to others it’s terroir.

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