Maturing and storage of cheeses: how to make them better

Useful tips and equipment for maturing and storing cheese

Monday 31 July 2023

Ripening and storage of cheese are essential processes to ensure the quality and optimal storage of dairy products. Both seasoning and storage methods, in fact, contribute to give the flavor, texture and aroma characteristic of each cheese, making the products unique and tasty. Obviously not all cheeses are suitable for prolonged maturation: some soft cheeses are destined for immediate consumption, while others, hard pasta, may require a longer period of maturation to reach their full maturity. In any case, to achieve high quality results, you need to follow some precautions and, above all, use the right equipment, safe and specifically designed for contact with food.

Let’s see together some tips and all the useful tools to perform at best the processes of maturation and storage of cheese. 

Cheese ripening: some factors to consider

Cheese ripening is a process that requires a certain waiting period, which serves to create a very precise flavor and texture, and thus enhance the characteristics of each product. A freshly made cheese can have a very different consistency from the one it will take after the period of maturation: in order to obtain the desired flavor and consistency it is necessary to ripen it, by the effect of rennet and micro-organisms present on the surface and inside the paste. Seasoning can take different times depending on the type of cheese: from a few days or weeks for stracchino, up to several months and even years, for asiago, Grana Padano or the aging of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Some important factors to consider in order to carry out the ripening process are temperature and humidity, which are responsible for the growth of beneficial moulds and the proper development of enzymes that contribute to the transformation of cheeses. The ideal temperature for maturing can vary depending on the type of cheese. In general, it should be in the range of 10°C to 14° C. Cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano require slightly higher temperatures, between 15 and 18° C (with a moisture content above 80%), while other delicate cheeses may require lower temperatures, around 5 °C.

The moisture level is also crucial to avoid unwanted crust formation and to maintain an environment conducive to the growth of beneficial mold. The ideal humidity for maturing cheese varies between 75% and 85%. You can control moisture through the use of controlled environments or the use of paper sheets for wet cheeses. Seasoning also requires adequate rooms, darkness and a good air exchange.

Cheese ripening methods: what are the main ones?

The maturing of cheese can take place through different methods, each of which can give the products unique characteristics and distinctive taste profiles. Among the main ones are:

  • natural seasoning, the traditional and most common method. This type of seasoning involves the exposure of the cheeses to air to allow the development of enzymes. During natural ripening, the cheeses are arranged on specific plastic grills for maturing cheeses, grilled boards or holed boards in specially designed rooms. The fresh and humid air of the environment contributes to the maturation of the cheeses over time;
  • maturing in a cave, a method used for specific cheeses, such as pecorino cheese or caciocavallo, which are placed inside natural caves, which offer a controlled environment of temperature and humidity. Humidity, low light and low natural temperatures give the cave cheeses a characteristic flavour and aroma;
  • curing in brine, a process used for cheeses such as feta, which is carried out by immersing the products in brine, a liquid composed of water and salt (with a concentration ranging from 15 to 25%). During curing in brine, the cheese is immersed in the saline solution for a specific period of time, which varies depending on the type of cheese and the preferences of the producer. It is a practice of ancient origins, which was used to prevent the drying of the surface and the breakage of the forms, but also to prevent the formation of any mold or bacteria, prolonging the storage of products for long periods;
  • seasoning with oils and spices: some particular types of cheese are aged using oils and seasonings to give them a unique and characteristic flavor. During this process, cheeses can be wrapped in vine leaves or other natural materials and then immersed in olive oil, flavored or not. The oil helps to preserve the cheese and to intensify its flavor during aging. In some cases, cheeses are also seasoned with aromatic herbs, pepper or other ingredients to add additional nuances of taste;
  • smoking, a method in which the cheeses are smoked, with wood fire or natural straw, for a specific period of time. During maturing, cheeses are placed in smoked rooms or exposed directly to wood smoke or other smoked materials. The smoke penetrates the surface of the cheese, giving it a particular flavor and a characteristic aroma.

Cheese storage: useful tips

A proper storage is essential not only to prolong the life of cheese, but also to preserve its flavour and texture. First of all, in order to preserve the products in the best way, it is essential to understand the specific characteristics of each type of cheese and the different requirements of storage, temperature, humidity and ventilation. In addition to this aspect, it is also important:

  • maintain a controlled temperature and manage humidity, which, as we have seen, are both crucial factors for storing cheese; Too high humidity levels can lead to the formation of unwanted mold, while too low humidity levels can make the cheeses excessively dry;
  • protect cheeses from light, which can adversely affect their quality. It is advisable to store the cheeses in dark rooms or use opaque containers that protect them from light. This will help prevent oxidation and keep the flavor and appearance intact;
  • avoid possible contamination: cheeses are known to easily absorb odors and substances in the surrounding environment. To prevent contamination it is important to separate them from other foods that could emit strong odors and store them in suitable environments, protecting them from external contamination;
  • regularly check cheeses for signs of deterioration or contamination. Visually inspecting cheeses, checking for texture and smell can help identify any problems. If abnormal changes are noticed, it is important to intervene promptly to preserve the quality of other cheeses;
  • use suitable and high quality cheese seasoning equipment, designed for the dairy industry, such as IFT’s certified food-grade plastic equipment. Among the most useful products for storage and seasoning there are certainly the grilled boards, such as the self-supporting TGRA grill board, made of food polypropylene, available in various sizes and sizes to be adapted to new or existing shelves and systems. The grilled boards and all the plastic equipment for dairies proposed by IFT are designed to ensure maximum hygiene, quality to the final product and safe and controlled processing processes. Moreover, they can be cleaned very easily inside the maturing warehouses and allow a greater ventilation, with the consequent reduction of mould formation and lower turning and cleaning costs.

For more information about IFT’s dairy plastic equipment, please contact us!