We love it when our cheese community shows off their favorite ways to use the Cheese Grotto, including aging cheese. Like dedicated DIY-er Fred Schenkelberg, who incorporated the Grotto into his aging setup to control cheese humidity.
Fred was inspired to make his own cheese after traveling in Italy and taking a cheesemaking class at a local farm. Since then, he’s made fresh, bloomy, and aged styles in his Bay Area kitchen. We caught up with Fred to learn more about how he built his cheese cave and the tools he uses to make his own delicious cheese.
What You Need to Age Cheese at Home
Fred shows off some of his homemade aged cheeses.
Any home cheese aging setup needs to be able to control two factors: temperature and humidity. While it varies depending on the style, most cheeses age at somewhere around 50 or 55 degrees, with a relative humidity of anywhere from 70% to 90%. These conditions aren’t common in the average kitchen or refrigerator, so cheese fans who want to age their own wheels at home have to create them.
To do this, you’ll need a space to keep the cheese in that maintains the proper temperature as well as the equipment to not only maintain cheese humidity but also measure it, such as a digital hygrometer.
How to Create a Home Cheese Cave
Fred's home cheese cave setup: a custom-built, extra-large Cheese Grotto inside a wine fridge.
Many hobbyists start with a mini fridge that’s been modified to run at a warmer temperature than the usual 38 degrees. A wine fridge with an adjustable thermostat is another option to hit that sweet spot between 50 and 55 degrees.
Fred found success with a 52-bottle wine fridge with adjustable wooden shelves. It’s about two feet wide and a little less than three feet high—compact enough to fit in his garage but spacious enough for a few good-sized wheels. It’s able to hit temperatures in that 55-degree range, perfect for maturing cheese.
Next, you’ve got to figure out how to create enough humidity in the aging space and keep it steady. That’s where the Grotto, along with a humidity measuring device like a hygrometer or weather station, comes in.
How to Maintain Humidity When Aging Cheese at Home
Fred had created the ideal temperature in his home cheese aging environment, but reaching and maintaining the right humidity took some trial and error.
“I knew humidity was important to the aging process, so I started measuring it right from the start,” he said. “It was difficult to maintain the proper humidity until I installed a Cheese Grotto.” (Fred already owned the weather station he currently uses to measure cheese humidity, but you can do it easily and affordably with a home-scale hygrometer).
He experimented with several different methods for controlling cheese humidity, but he was only able to reach that desired 70% to 90% range by checking the hygrometer and adjusting conditions twice a day. He wanted to hit the sweet spot of 85% humidity.
First, Fred tried baking trays with damp cloths or sponges. He also tried plastic tubs, which made the humidity too high and resulted in moisture condensing and dripping onto the cheese. He also tried vacuum-sealing his cheeses—a technique that’s often used in making block cheddar—but he really wanted to make natural-rind styles. So he kept trying.
Where to Buy a Home Cheese Cave
When he heard about the Cheese Grotto’s ability to maintain humidity, he ordered one. After prepping the Grotto and soaking the clay brick, he loaded it with fresh wheels and popped it into the wine fridge.
Incorporating the Grotto into his home cheese cave stabilized not only the humidity but also the temperature. Now, Fred doesn’t have to check his cheese cave multiple times per day—he simply soaks the Grotto’s clay brick once a week and gets a nice, consistent 85% relative humidity.
“I don’t worry about it much at all,” he said. “I just check the humidity reading when flipping and brushing cheese and refresh the bricks as needed.”
Before, the wine fridge had cycled between 45 and 60 degrees. With the Grotto, it maintains a much tighter range of 53 to 55 degrees, which allows for better consistency and control of the affinage process.
Fred loved how well the Grotto worked in his home cheese cave, so he contacted Cheese Grotto founder Jessica Sennett to order an oversized, custom-built model that just fit inside the wine fridge. This change would allow him to age several wheels at once.
Soaking the clay brick weekly and giving his custom Grotto a light wipe-down each month had led to a pleasant mix of microbes in the aging environment and many tasty wheels of cheese. Fred is currently aging around twenty pounds of cheese in the cave, eight wheels in all.
Now, his biggest home cheesemaking challenge is keeping pacing his cheesemaking hobby—after all, the cave only has so much room. “Finding the right balance of sharing and consuming homemade cheeses with my make schedule is still a work in progress,” he says.
Are you ready to dive into your own DIY cheese aging project? It's easy to start with a Cheese Grotto, which comes with everything you need to maintain cheese humidity, and a Polished Gold Digital Hygrometer Thermometer to measure humidity and temperature.
Have you ever tried to age or ripen cheese at home before? How did it go? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!