On Day 4 of the drying process, I could dab no more moisture off my little cheese wheel, so I knew it was time to coat it. The kit came with a "cheese coating" of which I knew nothing about so I asked the company and this was the answer:
"The coating is a polymer coating with a mold inhibitor called natamycin. It's not edible. Many cheesemakers use the coating first and then a wax for a more moist cheese. The coating forms a hard shell around the cheese that is cut off or peeled away at the end of the aging process."
So in lieu of waxing my cheese, I coated it. I also read that all hard cheeses need to be coated/waxed to keep them safe from too much moisture, causing mold to form and spread inside the cheese. Some people will coat the cheese with olive oil then cover it with cheesecloth to act as a wax or coating. I'm not sure what I'll use next time! More research needed...
I started the coating process today. This will be a twelve-ish hour task - well, not 12 hours in full. But it takes about 2-3 hours for each coat to dry, then I need to flip it over and do the other side. Three coats x 2 sides x 2-3 hours...yeah...babysitting the cheese day! :) This is after the first coat that hasn't quite dried yet.
It's been interesting and kind of annoying to get the right temperature and humidity levels to age cheese in our little bar/cheese fridge! At the lowest setting, I could achieve 5 Celcius and 40% humidity. Ideal conditions for cheese aging is 12 Celcius and 85% humidity. While the Cheddar was drying out and being coated, I played around a little with the fridge's settings.
I managed to get 9 Celcius by keeping the setting on the lowest and filling the door shelves with cans and bottles of beer and soda. Now comes my creative side, I folded a hand towel between the freezer area and the fridge area. It's one of those fridges that basically has an open freezer (the freezer door doesn't do much in my opinion!); so there was too much cold air coming down to the fridge. The towel fixed that right up and I could maintain the 12 degree temperature! Step one completed!
Step two: The humidity was challenging. I tried several things that I'd read about on the Cheese Forum. The "best" result was a bowl of water with a sponge in it. But even with that, I could only reach 48% humidity. I needed 85%.
More experiments...And I found the solution!
I will keep using the water bowl/sponge to keep the overall humidity of the fridge at 48%; and put the Cheddar into an airtight container with a wet piece of paper towel in it to reach a variable humidity of 79-85% (in the container)- which is completely acceptable! I have to make sure I change the paper towel every day or so. I did a test run with an empty container, so I may need to adjust for the first few days.
***wiping forehead out of relief***
Step three: Temperature is good, humidity is good...but an airtight container? The cheese needs air flow...ahhh that cheese kit and the phrase "Just Add Milk"...keep all this in mind, anyone who wants to make Cheddar or any aged cheese!!! The solution to the air flow is to open the lid of the airtight container daily. I have to flip the cheese daily anyway so this isn't too much of an issue. But after the first month, I only flip it weekly, so I'll have to make it a daily ritual to air out the cheese container while changing the wet paper towel.
All said, I finally reached my goal. The nice thing is that I'll be able to put maybe 5-6 small wheels in there to age at a time. But - I'm assuming that I'll have to play with the humidity control again once I have more cheese in there!
After the coating process is done, I can start to age my first Cheddar! And...I can plan to start another Cheddar this week that will age 6 months! Of course, I will need more containers. I should really put together a little list of all the added supplies I had to buy to make ONE little wheel of Cheddar!
I'll be honest, I feel a little naive about the "Just Add Milk" part of Cheddar making. Yeah...the kits are deceptive, I won't argue with that, but the company where I bought my supplies has great prices and learning tools on their site - plus their customer service is excellent, fast and friendly - something rare these days. So I'll still support them, but maybe I'll write to them about all of this for their information.
But...it was a very good learning process. I think that if I knew I needed to do so much more, I may have been too intimidated to try it. But after making the Cheddar, my goal was not to waste it, so that's what motivated me to find all of these home-made solutions! Alex and I talked about a REAL cheese cave when we buy our place. We LOVE cheese, so that'll be something we will definitely make a reality in the future!