Thursday, March 19, 2015

How to make a small cheese cave

a cheese cave is where the magic of cheese "happens".  The slightly fermented milk curds are left in controlled cool damp dark area to "mature" and finish the transition from milk to some amazing flavor of naturally fermented and aged cheese. I the olden days, it might ell be an actual "cave" where the air is always cool and moist. Today, we create cave conditions through some means.

For our size of cheese operation, we choose to build a cave from a fridge. Not the typical fridge / freezer, but a fridge only. It is the size of a normal kitchen fridge freezer, but without the freezer part, the interior is just a big open space with shelves. The freezer would only waste space for no good reason.

But... there must be a modification. Fridges are too cold. Cheese does best aged at 50 to 60 degreesF. Fridge thermostats can not go that high. To accomplish this, we added a new thermostat. One from a home brew store for about $40. This is a simple mechanical thermostat with a dial range from 30 to 90. Digital ones are also available , but seem an overkill for this application. the mechanical one works fine and is cheaper.

These thermostats are made to "plug in" between the AC plug and the wall socket, to control the power to the entire device. A decent approach for home brewing, but not for cheesemaking.  To keep the air inside the cave "live" and working properly requires breeze, airflow, as you would find in a real cave. We tried to age cheese without this and the humidity was just too hard to maintain. The mold growth was off. The aging wasnt consistent. To overcome this problem, requires some wiring.

Its simple. There are 3 basic component to a fridge: thermostat, fan, and compressor.  The thermostat turns "on" when the interior temp rises too high. This applies electricity to both the internal fan and the compressor. The compressor moves heat from inside to outside and the fan circulates the air inside to make cooling even.  To age cheese we want the fan to run constantly but the compressor to be controlled by the new thermostat set to 55 degrees.

This is accomplished by simply finding the "hot wire" going to the compressor. There are always at least 2 wires... hot and neutral. (some may also have starting capacitor wires). It is important to find hte hot wire for this to work properly. the fridge wiring diagram will help in locating which this is, or a little investigation work of tracing wires can help. Whichever method, find the "hot" wire and cut it (MAKE SURE THE FRIDGE IS UNPUGGED!).  then run a set of wires (i use an old exterior extension cord piece) from the two cut ends to the thermostat.  Simply connect a wire to each side of the thermostat, so that when the thermostat clicks "in", the two wires are connected, making the circuit complete to the compressor.  Make sure all the connections are covered and safe, and thats it!

Now run the thermosat sensor through the back side of the door and into the cave. It can hang somewhere near the middle out in the open. .

Now, when the interior thermostat is turned on (the setting doesnt really matter). It will always call for "cold" because the interior will be held at about 50 degrees.  The second thermostat will click on the compressor only to get down to 50 and turn off, but because the interior is still on, the interior fan runs constantly. The defrost timer and interior light even work as expected.

The last step is to cut and sand some clean, aged pine boards to fit on the shelves, leaving about an inh of space between them and around them for airflow. Cheese ages best on wood, and the wood will greatly help to maintain the humidity by soaking up the excess water from the cheese blocks and slowly redistributing it into the air.

I like to put in a small temp / humidity sensor that will track hi/low over time to ensure that the temp and humidity stay within range.  Opening the cave every day to check on things will provide enough fresh air to control bad mold growth.

and there you go! we get enough space in this cave to age up to about 30 5lb cheese blocks at a time, which would represent a block made every other day for the required 60 says. thats more capacity than we need for now, but adding another cave for longer aging would be simple.

thats how we did it... and it works beautifully at our scale.

No comments:

Post a Comment