In 1894, The first ever cheese cave was discovered by Joseph Arnie, who was a local resident of Washington. Cheese cave was basically a lava tube, and initially it was used for storing apples, potato and other vegetables. Later on, Homer Spencer – a famous cheese producer, established the company named as Guler Cheese Co., which used the discovered cave at certain constant temperatures.
The aim was to store the cheese, butter, and to increase its shelf life. The cheese company is now long gone. However, the reminents of the storage racks still remains in the cave. Since then, people are taking advantage of using these natural caves to preserve their food for both, domestic and commercial purpose. The Western part of Washington is still full of caves, which are not only widely used for cheese storage, but also a favorite haunt of mashroom and Huckleberry hunters. These caves are also place of prime attention for national and international cave explorers.
What Is Inside The Cheese Caves
Cheese cave is an interesting phenomenon. Despite its name, a cheese cave is any space having a certain temperature which is humid and cool. Basically, a cheese cave can be anything from a natural cave to a scientifically self-designed refrigerated warehouse used for aging or preserving cheese. For instance, there are some type of cheeses, like Roquefort and other, which are still preserved in ancient caves just in the same way they have been for over hundred of years. However, with the much technological advancement, these cheese caves are replaced with indoor and outdoor climate-controlled areas (room/hall).
Some modern cheese-aging areas are mostly built underground or dug into hillsides because of the primary need of the cheese-aging process, which requires two characteristics i.e. temperature and humidity. These specifically designed places are carefully monitored to control the above two important factors and by providing consistent cool year-round even in hot climates. They provide somehow the same organic environment as of old lava caves.
One of the must requirement for aging the most types of cheese is humidity. This means a continuous moistured environment and without having the right level of moisture in the air, it is not possible to preserve the cheese. This right level means anywhere from 75 to 99 percent relative humidity based on the environment’s temperature. Humidity can be measured by a scientific measuring device known as hygrometer.
If the right level of humidity is not maintained for even few hours, the moisture in the cheese would evaporate out, and this will cause cracking, hardening, and turning cheese into an edible milk rock. So, for this purpose not only the surrounding environment is set to a certain humidity level, the walls of the plastic containers (vacuum sealing) are waxed in order to maintain the moisture level inside a cheese. In a case where even higher humidity is required; cheese maker may pour water on the floor of cheese cave or design special clay floors that could absorb water and later evaporate throughout the day or sometimes cheese makers may run special electric humidifiers inside the space.
Just like humidity, temperature is also an important element in creating an aging environment a temperature between 45 F to 60 F needed to be maintain inside the cheese cave. This temperature is warm enough to allow the molds, yeasts and bacteria to occur naturally and otherwise, depending on the type of cheese placed in the aging environment. The main aim is to provide a consistent and controlled habitat throughout the day, without losing or gaining temperature below or above the required temperature slots. This cannot be maintained in a room environment or any other open space where temperature may fluctuate greatly depending on the weather conditions.
Cheese On Wooden Boards Today
Long before people understood the science, wooden boards has been used as a tool for making and aging cheese for millennia. According to a research, published which is “Oxford Companion to Cheese” indicates that around 75 percent of the cheese maker today mature their cheeses on wooden boards.
The phenomenon of the wooden boards is somewhat similar to the reasoning of the modern-day cheese producers, which is its absorbant nature that helps to maintain humidity in the environment without forming up condensation over its surface. It is also very easy to clean and sanitize the wooden surface, and to inoculated with the required cultures of cheese helping it to process properly and warding off potential pathogens.
Making Cheese Caves At Home
If you are planning to age your cheese of almost any type or you just simply want to stash your cheese to eat later. Fortunately, you can make your own cave at home. All you have to do is to create a specific cheese-friendly space in your kitchen or anywhere in your house.
- One easy way of aging cheese domestically is to add extra layer of protection around your cheese. Use plastic paper well wrapped around the cheese or place the cheese in a plastic food-storage tub loosely covered with a lid or plastic sheet to protect the cheese from the drying air of your refrigerator.
- One other common way of storing cheese is by placing a piece of damp paper towel inside the container to increase the humidity level and put the container in the warmest part of your fridge. Remember the lower temperature means that the cheese will take longer to age.
- Clay Block is another useful way to store cheese. Basically, Clay Block is made up of wood and clay, which together are the best absorbant and evaporates the right level of humidity throughout the day. This helps to age or store cheese for desired longer period. However, if you are hoping to increase the shelf life of your cheeses, simply keep the block in your refrigerator.
All in all, cheese cave – completely opposite to its name, can be any humid and cool space well-suited for aging and preserving cheese. Yes that’s right! From an in-home microclimate to a refrigerated warehouse; you can get ripen cheese anywhere you want. However, you should be careful about temperature and humidity settings in order to kick start the process, and that’s all.