Understanding your Cheese’s Age

While all of us understand that cheese is ripened, how much do we really know about the process? At what point does it stop maturing – or does it ever? How can you judge the ripeness of your cheese without the aid of a cheesemonger? On a recent episode of Cutting the Curd, Cheese State University’s Director of Education talks about the finer points of how Cheese State University educates students in the nuances and variables of cheese. 

Ripening, aging, or maturing? 

Ripening cheese, sometimes referred to as affinage, is the crucial process in which cheese acquires its unique taste, texture, and odor. Through the collaboration of milk, lactic cultures, rennet, molds, yeasts, and environmental contaminants, cheese transforms from curds separated from whey into varieties of universally loved products. 

Cheeses are aged at different temperatures, environments, lengths of time, and transform based on their own unique microflora. Like bread, wine, and beer, the process is guided by the natural activity of the living product. 

Take Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for an example – after processing the curds to create the cheese base, it’s submerged in high-salinity water and then aged a minimum of 18 months. This is the standard Parmigiano we get in the United States, and its flavor is often described as being fresh and a slight flavor of yogurt owing to its young age. However, once the cheese reaches 24 months and beyond, the cheese takes on an extremely savory and pronounced flavor owing to the continued development of calcium lactate or tyrosine, which translates in the mouth as tender, crisp crystals embedded in the cheese. 

So What’s the Difference? 

There are many different effects that ripening has on cheese. For example – the iconic large holes in Swiss-type cheese is caused by the carbon dioxide produced by the bacteria in the cheese as it ages, while the process of mold ripening speeds the process for cheeses like Camembert, Brie, and blue cheeses. 

Thanks to Cheese State University, you’re given the opportunity to learn all about ripening, cheese aging, and the nuances of how this process impacts flavor, texture, and character of cheeses. 

To learn more about modern day cheese masters, check out Wisconsin Cheese. Cheese isn’t something they do, it’s who they are. Wisconsin is a state obsessed with making the world’s finest cheese, and has been making cheese since before it was even a state. In fact, Wisconsin has won more awards for cheese than any other state or country, and every Master Cheesemaker in America has called Wisconsin home. Visit WisconsinCheese.com to learn more about our commitment to producing the best cheese in the world.

Funded by Wisconsin’s dairy farmers, Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin is a non-profit organization that focuses on marketing and promoting Wisconsin’s world-class dairy products. For more information, visit our website at WisconsinDairy.org