As someone who loves cheese and loves making things, it was only a matter of time until I tackled the art of cheesemaking. Last year I learned to make mozzarella and I loved it so much I decided to up my game and try to make aged cheese! This posed a singular problem: I don't have anywhere to age my cheese. After doing some initial research I found that you don't need to shell out a lot of money for a fancy cheese setup, and you can actually make a decent cave using just a mini fridge or wine cooler!
This project takes such little time to put together that the only thing holding you back is going to be sourcing your parts (most of which you probably already have!).
Few people know that you can make a super legit cheese cave from an old (or new) mini fridge and just a few other things! Plus, what better way is there to give your unused fridge life by having it house homemade cheese?
Step 1: Supplies
To create your cave you will need:
- This could be any size, I use a mini fridge that I found on Craigslist for a decent price. You just want it to be clean and odor free!
- Humidity and Temperature Controller
- These could be two different devices, but I found a device on Amazon that senses both!
- A humidifier
*A note on your humidity and temperature controller*
The reason that it's really great to have this is so that you can keep your cave at a constant temperature and humidity. Basically what this device does is has a sensor that will live in your cave and tell that main unit what it's reading. You plug your fridge and humidifier into outlets that connect to the device and whenever your fridge gets too warm, it sends power to your cave to cool it down. Whenever it gets too dry, it sends power to your humidifier to humidify your cave! It's a really nifty device that is going to save you a lot of stress, and I would highly recommend getting the two for one unit.
Step 2: Maintaining the Correct Humidity
Maintaining the right humidity is one of the hardest things to do in a cheese cave. There are a lot of factors that go into how humid it is including the temperature of the cave, how many cheeses are inside of it, what kind of cheeses are inside of it, how much water is in the cave, and so on and so forth. This may seem daunting, but there are many ways to regulate humidity. Some of them include:
- Using a fountain mister (and tub of water) that turns on when the humidity gets too low (this can be controlled with our handy controller!
- Damp paper towels or sponges
- Salt solution
I initially started using the fountain mister but found that it created way too high of humidity for me in my small cave with the large amount of water that needed to be kept in order for the mister to be able to turn on. Plus the water splashed everywhere!
I wanted to avoid using damp paper towels because it is hard to replicate the same moisture content of a paper towel and I wanted to use something that required less attention. I then found this great article on salt solutions and how you can use them to create a constant relative humidity in a closed environment. Sounded perfect!
If you don't want to read it, here's the big idea. If you take a tablespoon or so of salt and add a couple drops of water (so that the salt is saturated but does not dissolve) and another container of an equal amount of water, and place it in a closed container it creates a constant relative humidity of 75%. This is because the salt solution is wanting to absorb water, and the easiest source is from the separate cup of water you place in the container. You can scale up the amount of salt for larger areas, but I found that using about a tablespoon of salt with a couple drops of water gets my cave up to 75% humidity no problem!
I placed these two cups in the bottom of my cheese cave and let it stabilize for 12 hours.
Step 3: Maintaining the Correct Temperature
Luckily since I used a fridge to make my cave out of, I was able to plug my fridge power outlet into the controller (the "work 1" outlet for temperature and the "work 2" outlet for humidity). I then used the controller to set my temperature range (following the instructions that it came with) so that it would stay at 53 degrees F. This means that anytime my cave gets above 53 degrees it sends power to my fridge (which I turned to the warmest possible setting), and anytime it gets below 53 degrees it stops sending power.
There is also a setting that allows you to set a range of temperatures. I thought this was great but overlooked the fact that anytime it got above or below the range it would alarm...loudly. Since I'm not home during the day this seemed like a terrible idea, as it keeps alarming until you physically press one of the buttons on the controller. If nobody is in my apartment (or doesn't know to do that) it means that this thing could be going off for hours and hours until someone comes home. I'm not looking to be a terrible neighbor so I set a HUGE range (basically the biggest it would allow) and it hasn't alarmed on me since.
Once everything was plugged in this came with a loop of string to hang, so I stuck it on a hook on my wall so I can always keep an eye on how the cave is doing without opening it up all the time.
Step 4: That's All!
Once you have your cave and potential source of humidity plugged into your controller, that's all! It's really that simple. I had a problem with drippage from the freezer in my cave, but that was solved by making a new shelf and placing the lid to a tupperware underneath it (freeing up a lot of space in my cave). See my instructable here as to how I did that.
I would give your cave about a week (or at least a few days) to see how stable it keeps the humidity and temperature, so you know if there's going to be a problem with either. Your humidity can fluctuate based on a lot of things, such as where you live, where you keep your cave, and how much cheese (and what type) is inside of it. It's all a balancing act but once you find a way to remedy this you're home free!
Feel free to comment if you have any questions!
Thanks for reading and happy cheese making!