Welcome to Part 2 of an endless series about cheese preservation. I always get excited to write these posts, because it gives me the time to dive deep into the nature of each style of cheese and its variations. I approach cheese preservation and storage with a cheese maker's hand and eye. It's the chemistry and science of cheese making itself that defines the final cheese, and there is a certain intuition that comes with that. Overall, it is a tactile experience: the more you touch, taste, smell different varieties of cheese, the more you understand the nature of the curd.
The Painted Goat, Button
Pasteurized goat milk cheese, fresh
Store at: 80 to 85% humidity, 40 degrees F
Enjoy within two weeks to one month
Many people often ask me: can I use the Grotto for storing fresh cheese? The answer is yes. There are a couple of varieties that thrive in brine (salt + water) or whey, such as feta or mozzarella, but fresh, lactic logs and discs of spreadable cheese will find a happy home in the humidor. In fact, if you find a disc of fresh goat cheese that has been inoculated with soft-ripening cultures (*ask your local cheesemonger*), you can ripen and develop the rind of the cheese inside the Grotto. This is a trick that many cheesemongers practice behind closed walk-in refrigerator doors. Given the right humidity, a fresh soft cheese disc can develop a lovely rind, even at slightly cooler temperatures.
Another pro-tip: back before the days of refrigeration, goat milk cheeses were air dried in wicker or lattice cages. This curing process controlled the moisture level of the cheese to prevent against brown, fluffy molds called "poil de chat." A fresh, spreadable goat cheese that is dried delicately over time is simply another form of deliciousness. So do not fear if your cheese drops below the recommended humidity levels. Rather, I encourage you to experiment with slightly lower humidity levels over time if you'd like to extend the shelf life of your cheese.
Capriole Piper's Pyramide
Soft-ripened goat milk pyramid, rubbed and lined with paprika, dense and creamy
Store at: 80% humidity, 39 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit
Enjoy within: three weeks to two months
This cheese is modeled after my favorite styles. I love a small format goat cheese that is both dense and creamy at the same time. You can slice off a wafer of the cheese and let it melt on your tongue, and its sweet, lactic notes will naturally emerge. You can also crumble it onto a salad and it will maintain its structural integrity. Such is the nature of a well-made pyramid shaped cheese. It stands high due to its foundation of well-ladled curd.
The style is also similar to a crottin in nature. In France, a crottin can also be cured to increase its density over time. This will extend the shef-life of the cheese considerably. So if the humidity in your Grotto drops below 80% to 70%, expect your Piper's Pyramide to slowly cure into a cheese that can last up to two months, if not more.
Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk
Pasteurized, Soft, Washed rind, Triple Cream Cow Milk Cheese.
Store at: 80 to 85% humidity, 39 to 60 degrees F
Enjoy within two weeks to one month
This funky, spreadable, creamy beast of a cheese is definitely in the stinky category. If you purchase the whole wheel and it still feels firm to the touch (the cheese is still somewhat green), you can actually ripen it for a week in the Grotto to make it more unctuous. This is when I would recommend the 55 to 60 degree F range for ripening. Washed rind cheeses prefer warmer climates for aging, in order to maintain a certain moisture level on their rinds. In a cave, they are regularly washed with a brine (salt-water) solution, ranging once a day to once a month.
Once the Red Hawk has been cut into, however, I recommend cooler temperatures ranging from 40 to 55 degrees. Because Red Hawk is a high moisture cheese, it actually stores very well in the fridge in the Grotto, and can last for up to one month.
Boxcarr Handmade Cheese, Lissome
Semi-soft, Washed Rind, Cow Milk
Store at: 80 to 85% humidity, 39 to 55 degrees F
Enjoy within two months
This robust, semi-soft washed rind style also enjoys a similar climate to Red Hawk, but it's texture is less spreadable and contains less moisture than the triple cream. The cheese is meaty, and modeled after Taleggio in its shape and style, but it still requires a humid environment to safeguard against a dried-out rind.
Photos by Jess Hitt