Can you store cheese without refrigeration? I knew cheese makers have been making and storing cheese long before refrigerators were available, so I got curious. Reading up a bit, I learned that you can paint cheese with cheese wax, which allows it to breathe while protecting the cheese as it ages. So I decided to give it a try. For this experiment I used store-bought cheese and cut it into roughly 1/2 pound blocks. I let the cheese sit at room temperature for an hour or so to sweat out excess moisture.
While the cheese was sitting at room temperature, I melted the cheese wax (must be cheese wax, unless you have an inexpensive source of beeswax which will also work) in a double boiler. I recommend using a double boiler you can dedicate for melting cheese wax since it’s pretty impossible to clean afterwards and use for anything else. You can buy cheese wax online.
I put on sterile latex gloves to keep the cheese clean and my hands free of wax. After drying four small blocks of medium cheddar and two small blocks of jack with a paper towel, I painted on three thin layers, added a label with the kind of cheese and the date, and then painted a final thin layer over the label and the rest of the block. Use a boar bristle or other natural bristle brush since synthetic brushes could melt.
The wax hardens quickly. After the last layer, I tied butcher’s cotton twine around each block and left a long string for hanging. I’d read you have to turn the cheese to keep all parts breathing properly, and to keep moisture from pooling at the bottom. I chose to hang the blocks of cheese and not take up surface area unnecessarily. The twine is loose enough to flip the cheese and minimize moisture pooling.
My food prep corner of the shop, where I keep cookbooks and miscellaneous food prep gadgets that don’t fit easily in my kitchen, seems like a good spot to hang the cheese. It stays between 60-68F most of the time.
I like the idea of having a backup supply of cheese, and also like the taste of aged cheeses. There is always some risk of contamination whenever preserving or fermenting foods, so I’m not recommending this to anyone who isn’t experienced and confident they can identify when something looks, smells, or tastes “off.”
I’ve tried my hand at making fresh cheese (mozzarella, ricotta) in the past with great success. In the future I’d like to make cheese that needs to be aged. In addition to potentially creating a backup supply using purchased cheeses, this experiment dips my toe in the water of a small part of the process of making my own aged cheese. If the shop environment works without having to invest in a controlled “cheese cave” environment, that would be great. I’ll keep you posted on what I learn.