While traveling in Spain, I fell in love with aged Manchego cheese: the older the better. I can easily find Imported 1-year old Manchego in the US, but it just isn't what I remember -- either the farms willing to do export aren't as good, the cheese hasn't been aged long enough, or maybe the context is all wrong and one can only enjoy Manchego in the dry winds of La Mancha. Northern California has a number of artisan cheese makers, but doesn't have a strong cheese-aging tradition. Most cheese here is measured in months, not years like in Spain. So, I decided to try aging some locally produced cheese myself.
Step 1: Plan the Cave's Construction
The crawl space under my house is pretty cool most of the year, and I even measured the temperature of the ground a few inches below the surface at 59°F. However, there are vents to the outside, so the humidity is the same as ambient, and it rarely gets as high as 80%. I briefly considered converting a pantry with an exterior wall into a temperature-controlled cave using a window air conditioner and CoolBot controller -- but you know things are getting out of hand when you consider cutting holes in the wall for cheese you haven't yet tasted. In the end, I decided to follow the rough outline of the Converting a fridge for fermenting beer Instructable, and use a small fridge with a temperature controller placed in the crawlspace.
Step 2: Cheese Cave Materials
Small refrigerator, bought used on Craigslist for $60
Ranco ETC-211000-000: 2 Stage Temperature Controller $100
Honeywell TM005X Wireless Indoor/Outdoor Thermo-Hygrometer $30
miscellaneous wires and old extension cords
ceramic light bulb holder stolen from one of Randy's projects
Step 3: Wire Up Temperature Controller
Next, I tested all the parameters by sticking the temperature probe in hot and cold water.
Step 4: Mount the Temperature Controller and Secure the Wires
Step 5: Install a New Outlet
Step 6: How to Increase the Humidity in Your Refrigerator
When the temperature controller runs the fridge, the humidity usually drops 10-15%, but climbs back up to around 80% in under an hour. Since it's cool in the crawlspace, the fridge doesn't turn on much at all, and the temperature stays right around 55°F.
Step 7: Get Cheese, Start Aging
Donna Pacheco, the Achadinha cheesemaker, says she oils the Capricious wheels weekly with olive oil when they're young, and monthly as they age to reduce drying. She also stores them on their side and regularly rotates them. So, I oiled my wheel and set a repeating calendar event to remind to rotate and re-oil monthly. When I get more wheels of cheese, I'll build a rack to hold them on their side; for now, the first wheel is laying flat.
I'll post results in a year or so!
Step 8: Pictures of Cheese at Various Ages
2010-11-03 The weight of the cheese is now 4.5 pounds. When I first received it at 9 months old, it was 4.75 pounds.
2011-08-14 Cheese now weighs 2058 g.