At first glance, there is nothing simpler than cheese: it is curdled, drained and salted milk that is gradually preserved under a protective rind. It is a universal recipe for preserving milk for longer, but when the cheese is examined under a microscope, a world of extraordinary complexity emerges.
During the ageing process, the cheese loses moisture and is gradually covered with a protective rind. This is very useful for the extra milk that is produced during animals’ lactation periods, which is too much for immediate consumption. Thanks to ageing, these surpluses can be enjoyed for weeks, months or even years. Today, however, not only is affinage a way to preserve milk, but it’s also a way to produce high-quality cheeses with a full range of distinctive sensory characteristics.
Affinage is a process by which fresh cheese, just removed from the mould, is transformed into a finished cheese through enzymatic transformations that determine the aroma, flavour, texture, appearance and final consistency of the product. In many cases, this is done by the cheesemaker, but it can also be a job performed by the ‘affineur’, a long-established profession that combines technique and craftsmanship. These are specialists who buy cheeses from producers and give them the care they need, which differs from cheese to cheese, until they reach optimal development and quality for sale, tasting or consumption.
Constant vigilance and an exhaustive control of all the conditions that will influence the final result of the product must be maintained during the entire affinage process. Different refining techniques are required for each type of cheese, and the duration will vary, ranging from a few days to several years. During this time, several processes take place: the fats in the cheese break down, a crucial step in developing aroma; moisture is lost, which affects the texture; proteins break down, which affects the texture and aroma; and lactose is transformed into lactic acid.
Which means that the affineur needs to have extensive knowledge on each type of cheese to master the transformation process and know when each piece has reached its optimum point of ripening.
At Leartiker Dairy Centre we offer cheesemakers and affinage centres our knowledge so that they can implement the affinage process in the best possible conditions. We’re working on several interesting projects related to affinage and although we can’t tell you much about them right now, we look forward to sharing the more details very soon!