7 Great Ways to Make Aged Goat Cheese!
And Just What is Raw Cheese?
Many hobby goat owners end up making goat cheese at some point, but fewer venture into aged goat cheese. This might be because aged cheese takes more time, uses more equipment (check out our homemade cheese press plan), and may involve a few more ingredients. But it is well worth the extra effort and wait. Chévre is delicious, but there’s so much more you can do with aged goat cheese!
You can make aged goat cheese with pasteurized or raw milk. For commercial cheesemakers in the U.S., cheese cannot be made with raw milk unless it’s going to age for at least 60 days. That is recommended for home cheesemakers as well, although many goat owners make aged and fresh cheese with raw milk. Raw milk contains numerous beneficial bacteria that adds to the character and nutrition level of the cheese, but it also requires some special handling and some modification to your recipes in terms of the amount of culture added to the milk. Raw milk cheeses are delicious and nutritious, and pasteurized milk cheeses can be, too!
Aged goat cheese involves two distinct components: The “make” (that’s the day you actually work with the milk) and the “affinage” (a French word meaning maturing or ripening, this refers to the time and techniques involved in aging your cheese). The “make” for aged cheeses can from two to seven hours, depending on the recipe’s complexity. In past Goat Journal issues, I’ve given you several good recipes for making goat cheese (both fresh and aged) and for working with cheese curds, so this article will concentrate on a number of different ways to age your cheese. Using one simple recipe, you can achieve different results simply by varying your affinage techniques.
Choosing an affinage technique depends on how much time and effort you want to put into your aged goat cheese as well as your desired results. I’m going to describe seven common techniques, from easiest to most complex, and the expected outcome. I encourage you to try these techniques with a simple recipe, like Guido’s Cheese from an earlier article, so you can spend more time and effort on learning them. It can be fun to make one big batch of cheese and then age several small wheels from that single batch using different techniques, so you can really see how affinage affects the outcome.
Aging Technique #1: Waxing (Easy)
Originally, waxing a wheel of cheese was more of a packaging technique. Cheese might have been aged with a natural rind but when it came time to transport that cheese, it was waxed so that lots of wheels could be stacked in the back of the cheesemaker’s wagon and taken to the market. Nowadays many cheesemakers, particularly home cheesemakers who are making smaller wheels, find that waxing is a great way to preserve moisture, minimize mold growth, and make your aging time fairly effortless. You’ll want to use cheese wax or beeswax (as opposed to paraffin, which is much too brittle). I like to use mini crock pots as my dedicated waxing pots but you can also use double boilers. Once your little wheel of cheese has air dried for a couple of days, you can wipe it with a piece of clean cloth or paper towel dipped in vinegar to inhibit mold growth, and then quickly dip it in and out of the melted wax. Allow it to dry and then repeat this process once or twice more, being sure not to hold the wheel of cheese in the wax too long or you will melt off the previous layers.
Aging Technique #2: Vacuum Sealing (Easy)
When I first heard about vacuum sealing as an aging technique, I was skeptical. I knew that cheese needed to breathe as it was aging in order to ripen effectively and I thought the sealed wheels wouldn’t really mature much. I tried it for myself, and while I’d still argue that you get less flavor development in a vacuum sealed cheese than just about any other technique, the cheese does ripen and mature. And like the waxing method, moisture is retained and mold growth inhibited. This is a very quick and easy technique that will make your cheese pretty much “fix-it-and-forget-it!” I particularly like vacuum sealing in combination with the next technique — applying rubs.
Aging Technique #3: Rubbed (Easy)
Applying a rub is a creative way to add flavors and color to the outside of aged goat cheese. You can make a sweet rub by combining coconut oil, cocoa powder, and even honey, or you can do something more savory with lard or coconut oil along with dried herbs or seeds. You can even make a smoky rub by utilizing smoked paprika or smoked salt or peppercorns. The trick here is to make a very thick rub that you spread on the outside of your wheel of cheese, much like frosting a cake. I like to vacuum seal the cheese after adding the rub so that it can age without competing mold development on the rind. The finished cheese will absorb some of the flavor of the rub into the rind, but not as much into the actual paste of the cheese as it might if you added a flavoring directly to the curds before pressing. Still, it’s a lovely look and can add an interesting twist to a simple cheese.
Aging Technique #4: Natural Rind (Moderate)
In my experience, natural rind is the best way to get the most complex flavor while allowing cheese to dry, but it also means more tending to during the aging process. It also involves monitoring the humidity level of your aging facility a bit more closely, as insufficient humidity will mean cracked wheels of cheese, but too much humidity will make controlling mold development difficult. Essentially, a natural rind cheese is achieved by simply allowing the molds and other microorganisms to naturally accumulate and rubbing them gently with a dry brush or clean cloth every few days until a grayish/brownish rind forms on your wheel. When you get the humidity level correct (50-80 percent), this rind eventually becomes fairly stable and allows the cheese to breathe and develop the complex flavors of the unique combination of milk and cultures used in the make.
Aging Technique #5: Leaf Wrapped (Moderate)
This can add an exotic look and taste to your aged goat cheese and is relatively easy to do. Take some big leaves (grape leaves work particularly well) and macerating (soaking) them in alcohol such as wine, brandy, or bourbon. You can soak the leaves for several days or up to a couple of months. Let the finished wheel of cheese air dry for a few days, then wrap it in the alcohol-infused leaf. Tie the leaf with twine, raffia, or yarn. Then age the cheese as long as desired. The result will be a cheese that absorbs some flavor of the alcohol while also retaining moisture as it becomes more complex.
Aging Technique #6: Washed Rind (Moderate)
Washing your cheese wheel as it ages takes a little time and attention, but is a great way to significantly change the final flavor outcome of your aged goat cheese. You can wash with a simple salt brine, or with a brine that includes herbs and spices, alcohol, or ripening bacteria such as brevibacterium linens. High humidity levels are required to allow the flavors to “smear” onto the rinds and the resulting cheeses can have very complex and aromatic features. The bacterial washes can produce a very strong smelling cheese often referred to as funky or stinky cheese, and for some, this might be an acquired taste. The challenge with these cheeses is to retain enough humidity to allow the brine or wash to absorb without letting the mold run rampant. Adding salt or alcohol to your wash can assist with this.
Aging Technique #7: Bandaged (Advanced)
This final technique is perhaps the most complex but it can also be a really interesting process that produces a complex flavored aged goat cheese with limited moisture loss. The cheese wheel is first coated in lard, coconut oil, or ghee (clarified butter). Then it is wrapped tightly in cotton or linen, using several layers to ensure good coverage with minimal air pockets. While the cheese ages, naturally occurring mold and other micro-organisms will grow on the bandage but not the rind itself. When ready to eat, simply unwrap the bandage and discard it and enjoy the yummy cheese!
Whatever technique you choose when you make aged goat cheese, I’m sure you will have fun doing it and find that the rewards are well worth the effort!
Originally published in the November/December 2018 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.