Displaying items by tag: Maturing

    Wednesday, 09 January 2019 04:16

    Cheese Cave Upgrade

     

    It finally arrived. Now I may be an odd guy when one gets excited about a fridge, but when my new cheese cave (or wine fridge, if you prefer) arrived, I was practically salivating at the options for all the cheeses that I could make.

    My old cheese cave... wasn't even mine really. :-) I had re-purposed Wren's old fridge with a temperature and humidity controller to run at cheese maturing conditions. You see, most house fridges operate at 3-4 degrees Celsius, with very low humidity. The ideal conditions for cheese maturation is 10-18 degrees (depending on the cheese) at high (75-85%) humidity. So there's a bit of difference there. A difference which can ruin cheeses... especially over longer aging periods.

    Merits of the old fridge with controllers:

    Low cost of setup!

    Now, not everyone can splurge serious cash on a dedicated wine fridge, and many people already have an old fridge, or can buy a cheap second hand fridge. With the fridge easily covered, that leaves the controllers. The controllers aren't necessarily cheap, and if you can get a cheap wine fridge, then that may be a serious option to ponder. Originally, I bought my controllers in a twin pack, (temperature, and humidity) set. Which I bought on eBay for $200 Australian. Also, if you go down this route, I strongly recommend that you buy yourself some separate humidity/temperature monitoring equipment (thermometers and hygrometers, perhaps combination devices will work too), just so you have a second opinion, as the controllers do drift in their accuracy,  and need to be calibrated from time to time.

    Then all you need is a humidifier for the humidity controller to err... control. They can be bought/made relatively cheaply. In fact, I actually recommend you make your own. See my humidity control section under the "Downsides of the fridge with controllers" for issues and how to avoid them.

    Versatility

    Having a normal fridge, with additional controllers means that if you only make cheese intermittently, you can easily switch it back to a normal fridge for food or drinks when not used for cheese making.

    Freezer compartment still works!

    If you have a fridge with a separate freezer compartment, it's easy to focus on the fridge.

    A temperature controller simply runs the fridge less often to maintain a higher temperature. To do this, you plug the controller into the wall, and the fridge plugs into the controller. The temperature controller is a lot like a timer control for a lamp, only it's temperature based. However, while the fridge may be operating at 10-12 degrees most of the time, the freezer is still likely to be cold enough to freeze things. Sure, it may not be -16 degrees, and be only -12 (as in my case) but that's still cold enough for ice blocks, most ice creams, and many frozen foods. (Obviously check which foods are suitable, for your safety and piece of mind).

    Control of both humidity and temperature.

    It might sound weird, that a more expensive option has less control, wine fridges come with in-built temperature control, but little in the way of humidity control. That said, the humidity is much closer to what you need in a wine fridge than any conventional model. If you use a fridge with two controllers instead, and some sort of humidifier, you can set the ranges of both without any problems.

    Downsides of the fridge with controllers:

    Some areas won't be useful in certain fridges.

    If you are using a fridge with the standard crisper (fruit/vegetable drawer) and freezer built-in, then these areas aren't very useful for your cheese making. A crisper modifies the humidity in that area, and the freezer is obviously not useful for cheese maturation.. and I'm not convinced that a slightly warmer freezer is ideal for storing your cheese cultures. So you need another freezer space for that. However, the normal fridge area can be perfectly suitable for cheese maturation, and this has worked quite well for me, but I was frankly running out of room. Hence my upgrade.

    Let's talk about humidity control.... you need a humidifier, and they aren't all created equal.

    The humidity controller, does NOT, let's be clear... NOT, have the ability to produce humidity itself. So while the fridge has an inbuilt cooling mechanism (obviously), humidity control can't take advantage of any such in-built feature of your everyday fridge. So you need both a humidity controller, and a humidifier. Now many people are aware of off-the-shelf humidifiers, but be warned, many are designed to be used in a room, not a fridge! I found my first one (an off-the-shelf model) started to rust inside the adjustment knob within two weeks of setting it up. Not good.

    Important note: If you are using an ultrasonic diffuser/humidifier. Moving the unit while it is operational can destroy the ultrasonic components. So do not put it in the door of your fridge... unless you want to unplug your humidifier every time you want to open the fridge.

    The rust-proof humidifier.

    A humidifier just vaporizes water. Nothing more. Sure, you can get fancy, and expensive models with brand names, but you can build a good one with few parts using an ultrasonic pond fogger, (eBay is your friend here) and a deep tupperware container, and maybe a computer fan for dispersal.... in the end I just ditched the fan and ran the ultrasonic fogger, submersed in a tupperware container of water. But I wouldn't always recommend that.

    Ugly wiring, and electronics everywhere.

    Ok, so your temperature controller may be between the fridge and the wall socket, but you have a temperature probe running into the fridge. Couple this with the humidity probe from the humidity controller, the power cord(s) for your humidifier, another couple of probes for temp/humidity to keep the controllers honest, and all of a sudden you have 4-6 cables running into your fridge, and your temperature controllers have glowing red numbers illuminating your living room late at night, and if the temperature or humidity goes out of acceptable range, the whole house is alerted by high-pitched alarms. Yuck! So your better half complains about all these things affecting the aesthetics, Feng Shui, sleeping patterns, and your cat has played with the cable, and now the humidifier's fan has failed.... you see the point. This isn't a viable option for those with stylish homes, inquisitive children or pets, or can't put their fridge somewhere safe but approachable.

    Merits of a Wine Fridge:

    Appropriate temperature and humidity control.

    A wine fridge incorporates both temperature and humidity control at the right temperatures for cheese maturation. They don't have quite the fluctuations in temperature as they're designed to hold a temperature as stable as possible for the best aging of wines. Interestingly, despite the increasing prevalence of screw-top and plastic cork alternatives, many wine fridges still need to provide high humidity. They have this to stop wine corks from drying out and spoiling the wine. You may not have the fine detail control over humidity, but it's usually considered high enough for cheese making. If it isn't, placing a bowl of water in the fridge (replaced daily) will help. Some wine fridges even have the ability to create multiple zones, each with a different temperature simultaneously, which can help when making different types of cheeses... however they are considerably more expensive than the single zone options. If you've got the room, buy two wine fridges for multiple zones, and save a ton of cash.

    No wasted space.

    With no crisper or freezer to worry about, you get to use the entire fridge. Isn't that nice!

    Glass doors are a way to making things easier:

    Let's face it, the glass door means you can see your cheeses (and wine if you have it) at a glance. This offers an immeasurable benefit for keeping an eye on things. Cracked wax seals can be fixed, surface moulds can be grown and monitored (if desirable) and removed (if needed). What cheese fanatic wouldn't want a display fridge full of cheese?

    Putting your cheese cave somewhere in view reminds you to check, turn, and manage your cheeses more often than if it's locked in a basement somewhere.

    Soooooo pretty:

    Nice Beech wood shelves, nice LED display lights, and UV blocking glass means shelves covered with waxed, natural rind, and vacuum sealed wheels of cheese, look fantastic without the mess of cables everywhere, the ability to turn the internal light on without opening the door means you can age cheeses in style.

    Lockable:

    The sad fact is that some guests, children, cheese-nabbing-partners just can't be trusted not to help themselves to cheese if it's there for the taking. Having the ability to lock the door is at least a deterrent that says.. "Leave my cheese alone". A secondary defence could be to grow some particularly pungent cheeses that only the most dedicated cheese fanatic will be able to handle... and everyone else will have uncontrollable nausea. Mwahahaha.

    So there you have it, a wine fridge is a stylish way to do things. If you need higher humidity, then it's quite easy to add wheels in tupperware containers with a drip tray, and a couple of teaspoons of water in the bottom.

     

     I hope this helps you to decide which way you want to age your cheeses.

     

     

     

    Published in Cheese Making
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