BLUE MOUNDS, Wisconsin (WXOW) - Affinage is a French term that means the act of maturing and ripening cheese, an art that enhances both flavor and texture of the cheese. In recent years a few Wisconsin cheesemakers have built temperature and humidity controlled affinage caves to age out their cheeses.
"What I'm doing here is nothing really radically new, but curing cheese underground; there's not many of us doing it," says Willi Lehner a Cheesemaker at Bleu Mont Dairy near Blue Mounds.
With artisan cheese increasing in popularity, cheesemakers are turning to proven methods to help their cheese stand out.
"The reason that I built the cave is that whenever you heat or cool a space the humidity goes all over the place. In this space when the temperature is constant so is the humidity and that's crucial for good rind development," says Willi.
Willi insists that the mold spores in his cave impart specific flavors that help give his cheese a unique identity.
Cheesemaker Chris Roelli built a cave into the back of his property last November because demand for his artisan cheese made it a necessity.
"We had a need for more space obviously for what we were doing. Our business was becoming a cellar-cured cheese business," says Chris Roelli a Cheesemaker at Roelli Cheese in Shullsburg, Wisconsin.
The Roelli's new affinage cave uses modern technology to control the temperature to the half degree, and also keeps the humidity at consistent levels to control how the cheese ages.
"All the way around, the affinage process is more controllable, the product is better quality. I'm not losing as much product due to dry down and air movement. We've got little to no air movement in these rooms and it really makes a difference," says Chris.
In less than a year he's already seen results.
"The first cheese to come out of this building was Red Rock, and that's the cheese that we won the United States Championship with," concludes Chris.
Affinage isn't simply putting cheese in a cooler and walking away from it. Both Willi and Chris spend as much time making and caring for their cheese. Every day the cheese needs to be flipped, washed, and turned to avoid spoilage. All that care and labor is why artisan cheeses are slightly more expensive.
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