As they say in the real world, age doesn’t matter. However, in the cheese world, it truly does matter. Aging, otherwise called ripening is one of the most important parts when producing cheese. When we set cheeses to mature in controlled environments, they begin to develop their unique textures, appearances, aromas, and flavors. For example, when Swiss cheese ages, holes begin to form and it firms up.
The scientific processes of when cheese ages are as followed: the enzymes and microbes develop inside the cheese and breaks down milk fat and proteins into a complex mix of amino and fatty acids. In simpler terms, aging basically transforms the texture of the cheese and intensifies the flavor.
For most cheeses, the aging period usually requires two weeks to two years in order to develop their unique attributes. When cheese ages it generally gets a lot more firm and distinctive in flavor and aroma. When aged for 24+ months, Parmigiano Reggiano becomes a lot more complex, developing a fruity taste alongside a gritty, firm texture. Not every cheese is aged though, mild cheese like cream cheese, cottage cheese and ricotta aren’t aged at all and are consumed when fresh.
Temperature is very important when it comes to aging. Cheese is stored in cellar or cave type environments which have a closely monitored temperature and humidity. Not all environments are the same though, it all depends on what type of cheese is being made. When it comes to aging, soft cheeses, cooler temperatures are used and the process takes a lot longer because you must age soft cheeses slower to avoid bacteria, in a result of high moisture. If you want to age firm cheeses, high temperatures are used to get rid of excess moisture.
For general aging, the temperatures of the environments that aging takes place in a range between 10 degrees C to 15 degrees C. High moisture conditions are pretty normal, along with at least 80% humidity upwards.
Like many things, there are different ways to age cheese. Lots of different techniques are used to make many of the amazing cheeses we love. There are two main techniques which are called surface ripening and interior ripening.
For surface ripening, the aging begins on the outside of the cheese and progresses towards the inside. To encourage the growth of rind, microorganisms are rubbed onto the outer surface of the cheese. Brie, Munster, Morbier are an example of surface ripened cheeses which are also washed in a saltwater brine during the process. Sometimes, the brine is seasoned with wine and spices which carry flavor into the cheese and nurtures bacterial growth.
When it comes to interior-ripened cheeses, it is opposite to surface ripening and begins from the inside of the cheese and moves outward. The cheese is coated with wax to prevent further oxygen action on the surface, once it is done aging. Examples of an interior- ripened cheeses are Cheddar and Swiss.
For interior-ripened blue cheeses such as Gorgonzola, Stilton, and Roquefort, they contain additional bacteria and molds introduced to them during an aging period. Sometimes, the Penicillium molds are injected into the curd whereas other times, the microbes are already present in the air and grow within the aging cheese. For these molds, they grow into small fissures within the cheese, creating the famous blue-green veins and sharp flavor throughout the cheese.