Domain Three: Cheese Ripening (Affinage)

Affinage is a French word that comes from the French verb Affiner that comes from the Latin “ad finis”, meaning “towards the limit”. The Affineur is the person who ages cheeses.

In cheese terms, affinage is a French term that describes the ageing and maturing of cheese. It is during this period of time that flavor and texture development take place.  Each cheese has a set of unique requirements for temperature, humidity, and treatments (such as washing, brushing, or turning) that, combined, will ensure its proper development.

As this Body of Knowledge is a product of the American Cheese Society, it was preferred that the title of this domain be Cheese Ripening, which is the closest translation for the French term, though within the body of the text the term affineur/affinage will also be used.

Aging and maturing is not a precise science: the animal, the flora, the quality of the milk, the terroir, the season have an influence on the cheeses; the skill of the affineur is to be able to adapt his techniques and methods to the cheeses. This knowledge comes with time and experience.

 

I. What is cheese affinage?

A. Relationship of affinage to cheese flavor and texture development

  1. Lipolysis
    1. Breakdown of fats
    2. Enzymatic action
  2. Proteolysis
    1. Breakdown of proteins
    2. Culture action
  3. Desiccation
  4. Treatments
    1. Washing
    2. Brushing/patting
    3. Submersion in solution (brine, alcohol, etc.)
    4. Turning
    5. Humidity
    6. Temperature

B. Historical roots of cheese affinage, European traditions, and American adaptations

C. Who are Affineurs (cheese agers)?

  1. Producers
  2. Affineurs (examples: Cellars at Jasper Hill, Neal’s Yard Dairy, Mons…)
    1. Defining a cheese selection
    2. Relationship with producers
  3. Retailers (examples: Murray’s, Formaggio Kitchen…)

 

II. General factors affecting cheese affinage

A. Time

B. Temperature

C. Humidity

D. Molds

E. Micro conditions in aging rooms

F. Cheese microflora (raw milk, heat treated, pasteurized, cultures, adjuncts)

G. Cheese manufacturing methods

H. Packaging materials (or lack thereof)

I. Shelving materials and conditions

 

III. Affinage Systems

A. Natural caves

B. Manmade caves (earthen mounds)

C. Fabricated affinage systems

D. Cheese coolers

 

IV. Affinage of Smear and Wash Rind Cheeses (Epoisses, Oma, Hooligan, Red Hawk, Grayson, Tallegio)

A. Smear composition; general microbiology

B. Cheese initial compositions

C. Salting and rind development

D. Application of smear

E. Handling of smeared cheeses

F.  Ripening room conditions needed

G. Flavor and texture development in smear ripened cheeses

H. Common defects, their causes and solutions

 

V. Affinage of Blue Veined Cheeses (Roquefort, Ewe’s Blue, Shaker Blue, Rogue River Blue, Stilton, Gorgonzola)

A. Mold selection and application

B. Cheese initial composition

C. Salting and rind development

D. Handling of Blue veined cheeses

E. Ripening room conditions needed

F.  Flavor and texture development

G. Common defects, their causes and solutions

 

VI. Affinage of White Molded Cheeses (Brie, Hudson Valley Camembert, Mt. Tam, Robiola, Humbolt Fog)

A. Mold selection and application

B. Cheese initial composition

C. Salting and Rind development

D. Handling of white molded cheeses

E. Ripening room conditions needed

F.  Flavor and texture development

G. Common defects, their causes and solutions

 

VII. Affinage of natural rinded and bandaged cheeses (Cabot Bandage Wrapped, Montgomery’s Cheddar)

A. Cheese initial composition

B. Rind development

C. Bandaging techniques

D. Handling techniques

E. Ripening room conditions needed

F.  Flavor and texture development

G. Common defects, their causes and solutions

 

VIII. Affinage of mainstream cheese varieties (Swiss, Gouda, Cheddar, Provolone, Parmesan, Romano, Asiago)

A. Cheese initial composition

B. Eye Development for eyed cheeses

C. Rind development for Rinded cheeses

D. Handling techniques

E. Drying room conditions needed

F. Ripening room conditions needed

G. Flavor and texture development

H. Common defects, their causes and solutions

 

IX. Maintaining food safety during cheese affinage

A. Pathogens of concern

B. Spoilage organisms of concern

C. GMPs (Good Manufacturing Practices) and HAACP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)

D. Sanitation requirements

 

X. Maintaining cheese quality from packaging through distribution to retail sale

(Please cross reference Domain Six, Cheese Storage and Handling;
Domain Seven, Cheese Distribution and Transport;
and Domain Eight, Cheese Marketing/Merchandising/Selling)

A. Cutting, wrapping and packaging issues

B. Selection of the correct packaging materials by cheese variety

C. Sensitivity of different cheese varieties to abuse during distribution and retail sales

D. Shelf life concerns with different cheese varieties

E. Labeling issues-varies by country

F.  Marketing strategies

 

(1) The Guide to West Coast Cheese, by Sasha Davies, Timber Press 2010, p. 26