Letter Re: Cheese Making

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Hello,

I just had a few questions regarding the article on cheese making.

  1. When storing, what tool do people use to check the percentage of humidity? Also, how do you increase/ decrease humidity?
  2. Do you use the same batch of wash or do you need to make a new batch each time? Do you just store the wash in a plastic bucket at room temperature?
  3. In a grid down, what can one use as a culture or b.linen if you can’t buy one?

Thank you, – K.W.

T.Y. Replies: Dear Reader,

Thanks for the excellent questions!

For monitoring humidity, I use a simple Acu-Rite humidity monitor, which costs approximately $10 on Amazon. It runs on a single AA battery, which, of course, may be scarce in a grid-down scenario, so you’ll want to have rechargeable batteries on hand. In my experience you can expect at least two years of life with one battery and probably more.

Regarding humidity control, don’t worry about decreasing it. For almost all cheeses you want humidity to be AT LEAST 80%, with 90%-95% being more common. While ambient humidity may reach these levels in the short-term, they are rarely sustained. Here are some ideas to get humidity where you want and to keep it there:

If you’re using a small space (such as a frig box), place a large bowl of water in the bottom. For increased humidity, you can place wick pads in the bowl. I use the same style wick pads that came with my poultry incubator, since both the incubator and the cheese cave aim to have high humidity. If you have your cheese aging in a room with a concrete floor or wall simply pour water over the floor. It’s best if your concrete floor is NOT sealed. Concrete can serve as a wonderful large “sponge” that holds water and releases it to enhance humidity on a controlled basis. Finally, it’s important to size your room properly. In short, rooms that are full of cheese tend to have no humidity problems, since the cheeses contain a lot of moisture, which they release. If you’re planning on making a lot of cheese, consider a modular cheese room design where it’s always sized for the amount of inventory that you have on hand.

I use the same batch of BRINE when brining the cheese and never change it. This is controversial, as some say you should change frequently while many have been using the same brine for a lifetime. I keep it heavy with salt and just keep going. Regarding the WASH, I use the same wash for multiple batches of cheeses. Often I will change the brush or rag that is being used, but to address your next question below I wouldn’t do that in a grid down. I store the wash in a 3-gallon Igloo container and refill when necessary. It, like the brine, is stored in the cheese cave, so it is at cheese cave temperature– around 54 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, regarding cultures and b.linens in a grid down, let me address the second part of the question first. If you’re not making cheese now simply put a small packet of b.linens in your preps (stored properly), and you’ll have plenty to get you started. If you have already begun, this is why I would not change to a clean towel or rag. When you finish washing your cheeses, simply hang the rag up where air flow can move the b.linens around the room. You’ll have more in your environment, along with other microflora unique to you, than you’ll need. Regarding starter culture, if you cannot obtain it in a grid down scenario, then you’ll need to create a mother culture from one of your batches, similar in concept to a sourdough starter. That’s another article in itself, but I’m sure you can find information online to get you started. A great resource is cheeseforum.org.

Remember also that air flow is very important. In small rooms this can be achieved simply by opening and closing the door a couple of times a day. If airflow is insufficient you’ll detect ammonia. That’s not only unpleasant but can wreak havoc on equipment.

Good luck and hope this helps!

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