Hard cheeses are waxed to keep the cheese from becoming too dry and to retard mold growth during the aging process. Hard cheeses that are air-dried go through that process for two to five days (two to four days for farmhouse cheddar) before being waxed. (Some hard cheeses such as Swiss or Parmesan are soaked in a brine solution and don’t require waxing.)
You can buy cheese wax from a cheese supply house. I purchase all my supplies from New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Cheese wax comes in red, yellow, and black. Wax made specifically for cheese is stronger and more pliable than paraffin, and is reusable. This is a five-pound block. (Probably more than you need starting out, unless you’re planning to make a lot of cheese, which I am.)
I waxed my farmhouse cheddar on the fourth day. How long you air-dry the cheese before waxing depends on the temperature and humidity in your house. The purpose of the air-drying period is to develop a protective rind on the cheese. (Comparable to the crust on bread–for those of you who are bakers and are trying to figure out what I mean.) My cheese probably had a good enough rind on the second day, but I waited, mostly because I was busy. It doesn’t hurt to let it go the full four days.
To prepare the cheese for waxing, I dipped a small piece of butter muslin in white vinegar and wiped the entire surface of the cheese. This eliminates any mold development (even unseen). After wiping the cheese off, chill it for several hours prior to waxing. (It’s easier to wax cold cheese.)
Having never waxed cheese before, I wasn’t sure how much wax I’d need. I cut off a couple of small (approximately 2 inches by four inches) pieces of wax.
Two pieces that size were just one corner off the five-pound block. (And turned out to be more than enough to wax a two-pound round of cheese.)
Melting cheese wax is similar to working with candle wax. Be careful. Pay attention to your melting pot. Cheese wax should be melted at 210-degrees. Don’t get the wax any hotter than necessary to melt and never leave it unattended.
I use a makeshift double-boiler, just as I do when making candles. You don’t want your cheese wax pot to come into direct contact with the heat.
To wax your cheese, you’ll need a dedicated cheese wax pot, a wax brush, and cheese wax. I’m using a small pot–I don’t mind if I have to go a second round melting additional wax as needed and it was the only pot I was willing to sacrifice right now to permanent cheese wax service. Wax is difficult to clean, so re-using the same pot over and over simplifies your life. Also, this wax will come into contact with food, so using your regular candle waxing pot is out.
You also need a dedicated cheese wax brush that is used only for cheese. Do not use a nylon brush–it will melt in the wax. Use any natural bristle brush.
You can use any type of pot–if you intend to dip your cheese to wax it, you will need a large enough pot to dip whatever size of cheese you will be using. Dipping requires melting more wax at a time because you need enough in the pot to dip. I’m using a small pot and applying the wax with a brush.
Apply the wax on one surface of the cheese at a time.
Cheese wax sets up quickly. (Reheat your wax pot as needed, or keep the pot on the stove on low while you’re waxing.)
Turn the cheese and continue applying wax. Apply at least two coats over the entire surface of the cheese.
Waxing cheese is very easy and it doesn’t take long. It took less than 15 minutes for me to wax this two-pound round of farmhouse cheddar.
Cheese wax can be re-used–when you’re ready to eat the cheese, the wax peels off easily. Melt the wax then strain it through butter muslin and it’s ready to be used again. For my melting pot, I’m keeping the small amount of remaining wax in the pot, covered, for future use. I scraped off what wax I could from the brush then put the brush in a baggie to store. Simply swishing the brush around in the next pot of cheese wax will melt off the remaining bits and I’ll be ready to use the brush again. (This is why you want a dedicated cheese wax pot and dedicated cheese wax brush.)
Now my farmhouse cheddar is ready to be aged! Some cheeses need to kept at very specific storage temperatures during aging. Farmhouse cheddar is all right as long as the environment doesn’t exceed 68-degrees F. My house in winter is fine for that. (Many cheeses need cooler temperatures. I’m contemplating using the cellar at the old farmhouse as a cheese cave. I think it would be perfect!)
See you in a month, my cheesy darling!