From the French verb affiner, meaning roughly "to mature".

The process of maturing cheese, after forming the curd and putting it into a mold. It is usually applied to small batches done on farms and/or small shops, and not to the industrial-level production of cheese by large companies. Cheese makers skilled in this art are often known as "affineurs".

There are four key parts to affinage, each with a strong effect on the flavor of the resulting cheese. After all, with over 500 different types of cheese, all from simple milk, there have to be differences somewhere along the line. And since the variety of molds create a very complex biological system, that system needs to be controlled to control the resulting cheese.

Note that the cheese will be affected by factors even before this point. The animal the milk comes from, and how the animal was nourished, and in what amount, can drastically alter the quality of the milk - and low quality milk will make lower quality cheese, now matter what amount of effort is put into it.

  • Temperature: Each mold used for a cheese is highly influenced by the temperature as to how fast it grows, and how it affects the flavors and textures of the cheese with it's metabolic processes. Some cheeses even benefit from being matured at different temperatures at different times.

  • Basting: To properly prepare some cheeses, it is necessary to wash them in liquid (sometimes called a salamoia) during maturation. The frequency of basting, along with what liquid to use, whether regular water, saltwater, vinegar or other liquids or combinations thereof. Ragusa cheese, for example, requires basting with a liquid containing Thyme, Tarragon, and Marjoram.

  • Turning: Some cheeses require being turned occasionally to promote proper maturation and development of the cheese. Many cheeses, as they develop, will expel fat in various amounts, and as long as the fat is wiped away, this process will continue - this is what makes a cheese harder. Also, depending on the type of facility used for storage, vertical movement may also be important. Some cabinets used for affinage will have a variance in humidity from the top to the bottom, and cheese can be raised or lowered to affect their maturation.

  • Timing: All of the proper work on the other parts can be shot if the timing is wrong. Knowning exactly when to turn the cheese, to baste the cheese, to change the temperature, are all important for a high-quality cheese.
For some, more complex and fancy cheeses, this process really doesn't cease until the cheese is actually eaten. Some cheeses even can benefit from an improvement in flavor from the proper transportation and presentation.

What's Up at Art of Cheese Newsletter April 1999,

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