Cheese · Cheesemaking · Learning from Mistakes

Well, .333 is Considered a Great Average in Baseball

Earlier in the short Little League season, Alex had a game where he struck out every time he was at bat, a rarity for him.  I think two things were at play that day – he was still getting used to the pitching machine, and he was learning to hold his arm, his "back" arm, up higher so he could get more power behind it, and this was still new to him and probably slowed down his response time a bit.

Anyway, he was, understandably, dejected after that game, and we told him that ALL batters strike out sometimes.  Every one of them, no matter how great they are.  They strike out.  Sometimes it's just once in a game, sometimes it's the whole game, sometimes it's a whole bad streak where they're just not doing well at all.  But it happens.  To grown up men who are professional ball players getting played lots of money to play this beautiful game.  And they usually always bounce back.

The main thing is, they keep swinging.

I bring this up not to launch into a poignant story about Alex today, but to share this with you:

Yes, it's mold.

Mold on one of the other cheddars I've made.  The stirred-curd cheddar, to be exact.  The second hard (as opposed to "soft," not "easy") cheese I've made so far.

I waxed it on May 8th, and it's been aging since then.

I was looking forward to sampling it at some point in July.

Ah, well.

But wait, there's more!

Have a look at this one:


That, my friends, is more mold.

On my Jalapeno Cheddar.  The third cheddar I've made.  So far.

So I'll back up now and tell you all about it.

Hmm…where to begin?

Well, okay.  Originally my cheddars were aging happily (I assume) in a chest freezer we have in the basement.  It's not used as a freezer.  My husband has used it in the past to lager beer (Quick lesson, if you aren't aware of this – beer falls into two main categories:  Lagers and Ales.  One important difference between the two is that lagers are fermented at a lower temperature and then held at an even lower temperature for a while.  Ales aren't.  Yes, "Lager" is a verb, really  It means "to store."  (Just like "cheddar" is a verb!  Cute, huh?  His and Hers hobbies with similar grammatical trivia!)  Lesson done for today.) – he's got a temperature regulator hooked up to the freezer and can set it for whatever temp he needs, and the regulator will keep the freezer within +/- 3 degrees of that temp.  So if you want it at, say 55 degrees F to age some cheddar, you can do that.

And I did. 

The temperature inside the chest freezer hovered around 53 degrees, give or take, and I dutifully turned the waxed cheeses over daily to prevent moisture build-up.

Then, several new things came into play.

#1 – We brined pork bellies because we were going to make bacon.  More on that in a separate post.

#2 – Brining the bacon required a big space (i.e. not our fridge in the kitchen, which was already kind of crowded) and a normal, food safe, refrigerator temperature (i.e. not cheddar-aging temperatures).

#3 – So we lowered the temp in the chest freezer for the pork, and moved my two remaining cheddars (we'd already sampled the Farmhouse) into a small dorm fridge.  My dad used to store film in it, and when he retired, he gave the little fridge to us, thinking we could store bottles of beer in it or something.  I don't think we had the chest freezer at that point yet.  Anyway, I'd already given the dorm fridge a good and thorough cleaning, anticipating it's new life as a cheese aging and storing unit, so we just needed to plug it in.  The temperature was on the cold side of the ideal temperature range, but we were only going to use it for about a week while the pork sat in brine, so we figured it would be okay.

#4 – I stopped flipping the cheeses over on a daily basis. 

I don't know why.  I may have thought they were fine, since the Farmhouse cheddar came out so nicely.  I may have thought they could stay on one side for longer without anything bad happening.  I may have gotten out of the routine of it, just because they were no longer in the same place and oh, who really knows?  I was flipping the brining pork bellies over every day, maybe that fulfilled all my flipping needs and I neglected the cheese as a result.

Anyway, that's one thing.

Another is – the chest freezer has a much larger capacity than the dorm fridge, and I'm thinking about that in terms of air flow and humidity.  Maybe it was just too humid in the dorm fridge.  Too small a space.  Too damp.  And not enough flipping.

All I know is that yesterday, a week and a half after we'd moved the cheeses to that little fridge, and I don't know how many days since I'd last flipped them – definitely a couple – I opened the fridge and turned the cheeses and discovered dark patches had appeared under the wax.  On both of them.


At first my hopeful little brian whispered "maybe it's just the jalapeno cheddar you're looking at, and those are, you know, the little dark bits of jalapeno!  Yeah, that's it!" And then I pointed out to my hopeful little brain that these dark patches were not only larger and more round than dark bits of jalapeno, but that I also WASN'T CURRENTLY LOOKING AT THE JALAPENO CHEDDAR ANYWAY, SO THERE WAS NO REASON FOR THERE TO BE DARK ANYTHING UNDER THE WAX.

So anyway.  At first I thought that the little fridge (I don't know how old it is, but it's been around a while) maybe wasn't holding its temperature any more.  I stuck a thermometer inside and went back to the chevre I was making, in between cleaning up the kitchen and playing traffic cop to the kids and trying (unsuccessfully) to sort through a way-too-big batch of pictures from the weekend so I could upload them to facebook, and trying to get all this done fast so I could get outside and help Bill with the job of scraping paint off the undersides (or "butts" – no, really, that's what that part of the shingle is called) of the shingles on our house in preparation for the priming and painting we'll be doing soon.  (What's summer without a big, sweaty, home-improvement project?)

I'm dizzy – where was I?  Oh, yes.  So I left the thermometer in the little fridge for a bit and when I checked it, the temperature was acceptable – 49 degrees.  We'd set the fridge on the lowest setting, for cheese purposes, and this was the warmest it would get. 

So it wasn't that the cheese had become too warm. 

So I'm thinking it's probably my fault, for not turning them daily.  Lesson learned there.

Or, maybe, it's a humidity issue.  Too damp. 

Or a combination.

Another cause could be that the cheese-making conditions weren't clean/sanitary enough.  I don't think that's it, but who knows?  I'm still new at this.  Maybe something germy got in.

But I'm thinking that it's the combination. 

So next time, the cheese will STAY in the chest freezer/cheese cave, and when we make bacon again (and we will, oh, yes, we will), it will brine in either our own fridge or in the little dorm fridge on a colder setting. 

And I will turn the cheese faithfully.

And we shall see how it goes.

Yesterday, I wanted to cry.  So much so that I could feel an ache behind my eyes that wouldn't go away.  I'd been so excited about them, my cheeses, especially after the success of the Farmhouse cheddar.  I was really looking forward to the Jalapeno cheddar.

Oh well.

I will make more cheddars, and some gouda, and who knows what else.

I will – to go back to my baseball analogy – keep swinging the bat.

(I know, that's pretty awful, isn't it?  Did you groan?  I know I did.)

Okay, that's my little story for today. 

Time to check on my goat cheese, which has been draining for a little while.

I'm pretty sure that will come out just fine.


Additional notes, January 24, 2012…I foolishly threw (slammed) both cheeses into the trash, which, in retrospect, was my adult version of a temper tantrum.  I should, as some of the comments below recommend, have just trimmed the mold on the edges away and salvaged the rest of the cheese.  I'm quite sure it would have been fine.  So…lesson learned.  I haven't done much cheesemaking in the past year, which I regret.  This year – back in the saddle again.


6 thoughts on “Well, .333 is Considered a Great Average in Baseball

  1. Holy cow, salvage the cheddar, don’t toss it.
    I worked in the deli of a grocery store for many years. This is what we did.
    Gently wipe the mold off the cheese with a clean cloth dipped in white vinegar.
    This usually does the trick. Good luck

  2. Glad I read this! I’ve only done mozzarella, ricotta and cream cheese so far – I’ve been a little nervous about entering into cheddar. I’m laaaaazy with these things too – I still have wine that should have been moved into the secondary carboy a month ago, sitting in the first carboy – so knowing how *very* important daily flipping is is good to know before I give it a shot! 🙂

  3. Oh noes! Not the cheddar! But isn’t the wax supposed to protect the cheese from contaminants? How did the mold get there? Or was it just supposed to be present in the cheese and the “flora” got out of hand due to the not flipping?

  4. Yeah, if you can wipe it down with vinegar do it. Is it too soon to eat it? I also wondered about the bacteria getting on there before the waxing process. Or maybe there was yeast from the beer in the chest that caused the mold to grow. How did they do this in the old day with out a thermometer in a cave or cellar? I know my Aunt and Uncle lived in a house that had a stone building out back that smelled like cheese. It was really cool in there at times and they kept all the veggies they canned in there. Maybe you need a little stone room built out back.

  5. No, no, no!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sorry about this. I know how you feel. I failed at olives due to having to go out of town for a family crisis for weeks and missing a step in the brining process. I forgot about my red wine vinegar and dropped the moldy mother into it as I tried to fish it out. I hate mold. Grrr.

  6. First of all, I am really enjoying your blog. I have been cooking through this same cheesemaking book with the same supplies, and it is great to be able to compare to someone else’s experience (and with excellent photos!). I agree that you should try to salvage this with vinegar. The mold may look scary, but you don’t have to eat the rind anyway, and as long as you can keep the inside of the cheese from getting contaminated it will be ok. I have had some hard cheeses go really rotten inside, and believe me, you will know! Either they smell fresh and wonderful inside, or they smell truly terrible. Mold is usually just a surface issue, especially small patches of mold like this.

    You mention making gouda soon. Just a heads up that my copy of the book says to air dry for 3 weeks, and I think it must be a typo because that is waay too long. I think 3-5 days is about right. Except for the typo, gouda is the easiest hard cheese in the book in my opinion.

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