The Art of Cheese Maturing, Affinage

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In the UK, cheese affinage is a historic practice that plays a valuable role in the country's thriving artisan cheese industry. It’s a practice that requires an intimate knowledge of microbial biology and the cunningness to make subtle changes that will create drastic impacts over time, helping develop the flavour, texture, and overall quality of our cheese.


As an affineur myself, I know the talent and graft required to nurture a cheese along its maturing journey. I’ve been using our Rennet and Rind maturing rooms to bring in every farmhouse cheese we sell and age them in my own way. Each one I write maturing notes on this website for you to see an insight into the process. For my efforts, I’ve been honoured to judge at the World Cheese Awards every year since 2018 (not counting the pandemic year, of course!). Let me tell you, the great thing about affineuring artisan cheese is that no two pieces are ever the same. Though many will be turned off by this, I love how it makes me more appreciative of every bite, knowing that this may potentially never be replicated again.


Cheese affinage is vital to the UK's cheese industry, breathing new life into the production of beloved cheeses like Cheddar, Stilton, and even international varieties such as Brie. These cheeses are known for their complex flavours and textures, which result from careful ageing and attention to detail. This is not to mention the economic benefits of having a thriving artisan cheese industry with many small-scale producers and affineurs who rely on the craft to make a living.


Want to learn more about the traditional practice of cheese maturing? It’s a multi-phase process that involves using your affineur instincts and cheese grading, all of which we will dive into in this guide.


What is Cheese Affinage?

Affinage is the art of ageing cheese. The goal is to create the ideal environment for the cheese to develop flavours as it matures. This involves storing cheese at a specific temperature and humidity, with regular turning and flipping to ensure even maturation. However, the affinage techniques employed are as varied as the cheeses themselves, and the type of cheese being aged determines the specific affinage techniques used.


The word “affinage” comes from French, meaning “to refine”, which in turn came from the Latin word “finis”, which means “the end”. That connection to “finis” is what really defines affinage - it’s about taking cheese to the moment of completion. Our goal as affineurs is to take freshly-made curds from local farmhouses and take it to the end of the process with the right flavours thriving inside.


When I say it’s an ‘art’, I really mean that. It’s a practice that is very much based on experimentation, and it’s the trial and error of ageing cheese that can lead to incredible inventions. Ageing cheese always has the potential to throw up some delectable surprises.


What is Involved in the Cheese Aging Process?

Affinage is the art of ageing cheese. The goal is to create the ideal environment for the cheese to develop flavours as it matures. This involves storing cheese at a specific temperature and humidity, with regular turning and flipping to ensure even maturation. However, the affinage techniques employed are as varied as the cheeses themselves, and the type of cheese being aged determines the specific affinage techniques used.

The word “affinage” comes from French, meaning “to refine”, which in turn came from the Latin word “finis”, which means “the end”. That connection to “finis” is what really defines affinage - it’s about taking cheese to the moment of completion. Our goal as affineurs is to take freshly-made curds from local farmhouses and take it to the end of the process with the right flavours thriving inside.


When I say it’s an ‘art’, I really mean that. It’s a practice that is very much based on experimentation, and it’s the trial and error of ageing cheese that can lead to incredible inventions. Ageing cheese always has the potential to throw up some delectable surprises.


What Conditions Are Needed to Age Cheese?

Maturing cheese has to be kept in very particular conditions for the cheese to age into a strong, well-tasting cheese. Our maturing rooms are necessary to control the heat and humidity to foster growth and flavour development. Usually, a cold, damp environment attracts molds so a 90% humidity kept at around 10°C is optimal, but every cheese varies and appropriate training needs and safeguards need to be put in place, such as a thorough HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) plan.


But affinage isn’t just that which takes place in dedicated cheese caves or cellars. The environment and terroir around it drastically changes how the cheese will age and inevitably look, smell and taste. Factors such as airflow, seasonality of the microflora, the material that wraps the cheese and other cheeses that are ageing in the same environment, all entangle themselves in the cheese and the microbes in the air around them. It shows in some of our cheeses, like Connage Gouda, which has hints of its hometown’s grassy pastures, or the delicate mushroom undertones of Cornish Yarg which comes courtesy of its nettled-covered rind.


What is Cheese Grading?

Whilst the cheeses are maturing, affineurs will regularly grade the cheese in order to ensure the cheeses are in line with expected flavour profiles. This is done using a cheese iron to carefully bore a hole into the centre of each cheese and extract a piece of the inside. The cheese is scored on four characteristics: flavour and aroma, body and texture, finish and colour. This critical evaluation ensures that every cheese not only meets expectations, and matches the rich craftsmanship that is come to expect in the world of artisan cheesemaking.


Discover the Craftsmanship of British Artisan Cheese with Rennet and Rind

Experience artisanal mastery for yourself with Rennet and Rind, where the tradition of British cheesemaking lands right on your doorstep. We take pride in offering a carefully selected assortment of award-winning artisan cheeses, and if you want a true introduction, our popular Mystery Cheese Box is designed for the true cheese aficionado. Every month, I compile a selection of the finest British artisan cheeses, providing you with a taste of our extensive range. These boxes come complete with complementary crackers, detailed cards that narrate the story behind each cheese, and a unique art piece inspired by the featured selection. Each cheese is produced following time-honoured practices, emphasising our commitment to not just preserving but also celebrating the rich tradition of British cheesemaking. Embrace the chance to explore the exquisite world of British artisan cheeses with Rennet and Rind.

CHEESE MENTIONED IN THIS BLOG

Sale Off
Connage Gouda - Rennet & Rind British Artisan Cheese
£6.79
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Mystery Cheese Box - Rennet & Rind British Artisan Cheese
£35.00
Sale Off
Cornish Yarg - Rennet & Rind British Artisan Cheese
£8.00

Perry James Wakeman

Head Cheesemonger of Rennet & Rind. Qualified MonS Affineur, World Cheese Awards Judge and Patron/Trainer of The Academy of Cheese.


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