A little over a week ago I told you about making my first batch of cheddar, the Farmhouse Cheddar, which you can read about here.
At the end of that post, I said there'd be more to come and I'd post updates, but really? "I flipped the cheese over so the other side could dry some more" doesn't make for great reading. So I took a few pictures now and then and figured I'd post at the end of the drying stage.
Because after the drying phase comes the waxing phase.
So here we go.
I had the cheese in my pantry drying on a sushi mat on top of a wooden (untreated) board for a week. The instructions I've read say 3-5 days depending on air temperature and humidity, but I ended up going a bit longer because I found a bit of mold on one side and after getting rid of that (by prying it off with a knife, which is really NOT the correct method, I learned afterward) I needed to give the cheese a bit longer to re-form the rind. (Correct method is to dip a clean cloth in some vinegar and gently wipe the mold away.)
So, first, after the cheese sat under the final weight for a total of 24 hours. After that point, it was time to unwrap the cheese.
So here it is, after the weight has been removed and I've taken the wrapped cheese out of the plastic mold:
And then I set it down so I could admire my work and take pictures.
And then I critiqued it a bit…for instance, see the cracks down along the lower part in this next picture?
Not sure if that's going to present a problem later or not. In one recipe I read, the final pressing weight was 20 lbs, but it was 50 in another version of the recipe. I went with 20 because it was, frankly, easier, but now I'm wondering if that might allow moisture to turn into mold or something during the aging phase. I guess we'll find out around the end of June or so, won't we?
Anyway, once the cheese was unwrapped, I just set it on a clean, dry mat on top of a piece of wood and put it all back in the pantry to dry.
As I mentioned above, despite my best intentions, a bit of mold did form, but from what I read that's very normal and easily remedied.
So that was that – periodically turn and move the cheese until it had a nice rind. Not a hard rind – we're not talking parmesan here. It was a darker, yellower shade than the wet cheese that came out of the cheesecloth, and it felt dry to the touch.
Which brings us, at last, to this point.
The point where I get to say "Wax on!"
Unfortunately I have to wait a while before I get to say "Wax off!" so it's not AS much fun. But I gather my little bits of fun wherever I can.
Anyway, here's the cheese after all that aging.
So, before actually waxing the cheese, it's a good idea to put the cheese in the fridge for a few hours so it's easier to wax.
Why would that make it easier? Well, because you're applying heat in the form of very hot wax to this room temperature food item, and the hot wax MIGHT just make the rind soften or melt. But if the cheese is cold, it's less likely to soften when the wax is applied. And, of course, the wax needs to be applied quickly.
And when the cheese came out, I wiped it down (as directed) with a damp cloth dipped in vinegar, to get rid of any lingering bacteria that might try to colonize under the wax. I let it sit on the counter to dry while I started melting the wax.
Here's the cheese wax in my makeshift double boiler. Wax is flammable and cannot be left unattended while it's melting and over heat, whether it's an open flame or not. It's just too potentially dangerous. It's also recommended that when you're melting it, you do so with the hooded vent above your stove running, to pull off the heat and vapors that might decide to go rogue and burst into flame.
Yeah, I was a bit uncomfortable about waxing. But as long as you don't leave it alone, you should be fine.
Here, off to the side, is a sheet of foil, another sushi mat, and a natural bristle brush. Why? The brush was to paint the wax onto the cheese. I know, I could have dipped it, and I'd originally planned to, but then I changed my mind. The melted wax was going to be very shallow and rather than being able to dip half the cheese wheel at a time, I'd have to keep dipping and rotating the cheese wheel and I'd probably end up having to paint the center portion on each flat side anyway. So I used the brush.
The foil was so I could put the brush down without getting wax on anything else. And the mat? It served no purpose at all. I had it out because later that night I was going to be unwrapping and air drying the Stirred-curd Cheddar. But it served no purpose with the waxing. Consider it a garnish.
And here's the cheese again, waiting patiently nearby.
It took a few coats. And it was really very warm in my kitchen (80s) so I'd paint on some wax, very quickly (the wax dries fast so you have to paint fast), and then pop it in the fridge to chill down again for a couple of minutes, then back out and wax the unwaxed portion, chill again, then put on another coat in the same stop-start fashion.
And, finally, once the cheese had at least 2, but maybe it was 3 layers of wax applied and dried, I attached a little label so that eventually, when I've got a bunch of red wheels of cheese aging, I'll know which is which.
It ain't pretty, and maybe I'll try dipping the next one, because that might look nicer…but here it is.
My waxed wheel of Farmhouse Cheddar. Ready to age.
Currently it's in the basement, in the closet where we store such things as Christmas, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations, wine, and other miscellaneous stuff. It's nice and cool down there, but won't be humid enough for long, so I'll be cleaning out our chest freezer (which Bill uses to lager beer sometimes) and setting the temperature to 55 degrees F, and that will be my "cave" for the cheeses. At least until Bill decides to make another lager, which he says he has no plans to do any time soon. I'll keep it humid during the summer with a little dish of water in the bottom of the fridge, and hopefully that will serve me and my cheeses well.
One way or the other, I'll let you know.