Don’t fear cheeses with ‘experience’
Whiskey, fine wines, favorite jeans, and leather boots all get better with age. But did you consider that cheese is part of that list, too?
Walking down the supermarket aisle, it’s easy to reach into an open-front cooler and pull out a block of cheese without giving it a thought other than “Was it cheddar for that recipe, or American?” You go with cheddar because it is familiar and have always heard “cheddar is better.”
But if you read the package, you can get so much more with your more—more, flavor, more texture, more enjoyment.
Age builds complexity
A young cheddar and an aged cheddar may as well be two completely different cheeses. What was once milky, mild, and smooth becomes firm, caramelized, and nutty.
Combining the complexity of art and science creates the magic that happens during aging, the second transformative stage of cheese making. The process is called “affinage” and is conducted by “affineurs,” those who consider aging an art.
Affinage means “to refine” and comes from the Latin phrase “ad finis,” meaning “towards the limit.”
The aging and affinage helps manage the flavor profile and texture of each individual piece of cheese…often for many years after it has left the cheesemaker.
What’s going on in there?
The process of aging cheese is a both a time-earned craft and scientifically precise treatment. Cheesemakers can manipulate the storage environment to create certain conditions that speed up or slow down the aging progress. They utilize a variety of techniques to achieve different flavors, textures, and aromas, such as:
These have an effect on both surface ripening and interior ripening.
Without the aging process, many of your favorite cheeses simply wouldn’t exist. Aging is what helps develop unique and interesting flavors that cheesemakers couldn’t get any other way.
Wisconsin is the only state that requires a license to make and grade cheese.
One such affineur is Wisconsin Aging and Grading of Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Kate Neumeier Clarke, President and COO of Wisconsin Aging and Grading likens the process of aging cheese to a spa appointment.
“The cheese has a special suite to hang out in at a regulated temperature perfect for that particular cheese. It’s checked in on regularly. If at any point the cheese is uncomfortable it can be attended to in a different suite. Perhaps the client next to it isn’t ideal and emits a strong aroma; we’ll adjust the arrangement, so all cheeses are content.”
Keeping the cheese content is important. She continues: “Off flavors can happen in 15 to 20 days, so we consistently work to provide a quality product, which requires a lot of attention. All our cheeses are treated the VIP way.”
Utilizing the “spa approach” to aging, “We have given it the opportunity to reach its potential,” Clarke says.
In addition to operation an aging and grading facility for other cheesemakers, Clarke has her own brand, 724 Wisconsin Select.
‘Age is something that doesn’t matter…unless you are a cheese!’
—Helen Hayes, actress
If you think 90- or 180- day aged cheese you find in the supermarket has something special about it, consider Clarke’s unique aged offerings:
3 years — Traditional, sharp and nutty
7 years — Bold, tangy, and firm
11 years — Robust, intense and crumbly
And the penultimate:
15 year aged cheddar—Said to be a rich, unique, and captivating extra sharp cheddar.
To learn more about grading and aging of Wisconsin cheese:
Wisconsin Aging and Grading wagcheese.com
724 Wisconsin Select brand 724wiselect.com
Wisconsin cheesemakers wisconsincheese.com
Is a 28 year old cheddar worth every penny? YES!