No, it’s not a bad euphemism. I honestly waxed cheese tonight. Actually, Steph did most of the work. I stood around and made sure the fumes from the melting cheese wax didn’t render either of us unconscious or burst into flames. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The process began this past weekend. We picked up a few gallons of fresh-from-the-cow milk from a farmer we know outside of town. This is preferred since the milk hasn’t been pasteurized. Believe it or not, all that stuff everyone says is bad for you really isn’t that bad. It’s what helps make cheese what it is. After throwing in some rennet, a couple of hot water baths, and some other magical touches, the milk curdles up. The whey is strained off (sometimes made into ricotta, but that’s another post) and we get the curds.
Most weekends, we make Farmhouse Cheddar, but this time we went with a Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese. This meant we had to throw in a bunch of hot peppers along with the cheese salt. It adds a nice bit of flavor and some heat. Everything is stirred together and then put into a cheese mold for pressing.
The pressing happens in a couple of stages. 15 pounds for 10 minutes. 30 pounds for 10 minutes. 40 pounds for 2 hours. 50 pounds for 24 hours. The whole purpose of the pressing is not just to get it into a good shape, but also squeeze out every last bit of whey and such.
The whole thing then sits out for a few days to get rid of moisture.
Exposed cheese doesn’t age too well. So after it’s try to the touch, it’s time to commence the waxing. While it’s close to Halloween, no, that’s not blood. We bought some red wax for our next batch. There’s a pretty good reason for this. The old wax we had was a neutral color. Pretty much the same color. This caused a slight problem. Since we brush the wax on our cheese (store cheese is usually dipped in the wax), it was damn near impossible for us to figure out if we covered a spot or not. We usually ended up doing four or five coats just to make sure. The red wax made a huge difference.
See what I mean? The red on yellow is a big improvement over yellow on yellow.
What you can’t see is the fans blowing over the stove. This isn’t something you want to do in an enclosed space. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was watching out for it burst into flames. Out of picture is the fire extinguisher.
Fortunately, cheese wax cools pretty quick. It probably took less than 15 minutes in total from melting the wax to apply two coats and doing some touch up. Slap on a label and you’re done.
The last step? To the Cheese Cave!
Err … I mean the dorm fridge we have in the basement that serves as a perfect spot to age cheese. The temperature is just right and a small dish of water provides just the right amount of moisture. There the cheese will sit and age for 2 to 6 months, torturing us each time we open the door.
Is it a lot of work? Yeah. Most of a day. Is it worth it? God yes. Six bucks of milk and we get two+ pounds over cheese. Velveeta will never enter this house.