There are a few important variables to consider when creating a cheese cave.
- Optimum: anything from 8 – 15C depending on recipe
- Too low: will mature too slowly, or not at all
- Too high: will mature too quickly, and could turn rancid
- Optimum: 85 – 95% depending on cheese
- Too low: will dry out and crack
- Too high: unwanted mould can take hold on surface
- Optimum: gentle supply of fresh air to allow cheese to breathe
- Too low: ammonia given off by the cheese will damage both the fridge and flavour
- Too high: will dry out
- Must be easy to wipe down, and keep flies at bay
- Poor hygiene will cause flavour taints, unwanted mould or cheese fly infestation (check out Casu Marzu!)
Keeping each of these variables under control is vital for producing good, consistent cheese.
My first attempt involved placing the cheese on a rack over a tray of water, covered by a bowl, and placing in a cool area.
Within a couple of weeks, the cheese had dried out completely thanks to a combination of low humidity and temperature being too high.
I then purchased a couple of small 6 bottle wine coolers which kept a good temperature, but humidity was lacking (around 65% at 12C).
Cheeses matured relatively well, but it became obvious the fan required to keep the air inside cool was drying them out rapidly.
For a while I ran the fan at a lower voltage (i.e. slower), so less air would be forced around the cheese, which improved matters, but I was concerned it might cause the TEC (thermo-electric cooler – the component which “generates” the cold) to burn out.
I then moved on to a larger wine cooler, reasoning that a larger TEC and fan would require less aggressive air circulation.
This worked pretty well, allowing reasonable humidity (75%) at 12C. Unfortunately then I started having concerns about cleanliness of the components, since there was no easy way to clean the fans.
My latest attempt, which seems to be working very well indeed is a standard household fridge, hooked up to a Digital Humidity & Temperature Controller (update: link has unfortunately stopped working, but the seller’s shop is here, or also available, unfortunately only in bulk, on their AliBaba shop).
Temperature is regulated by the controller toggling the fridge on and off based on the current temperature and last switch time, to avoid compressor burnout.
Humidity is added using a Pond Fogger based on the current humidity. Ideally this would be placed at the top of the fridge, so the fog can drift down through the fridge, but immersing in the water-filled salad crisper is much easier.
Humidity is highest at the bottom of the fridge, so the probes are placed at the top of the fridge.
The cave is completely self regulating thanks to the controller, which means all I need to worry about is air circulation & hygiene.
Circulation is a pretty tricky one to deal with, since the fridge is practically sealed. The fogger provides some level of air movement, and I open the fridge at least once a day (usually to turn the cheeses) to refresh the air inside.
In terms of hygiene, I usually change the water and give the entire fridge a wash down with anti-bacterial spray once a week.
Overall i’m pretty happy with the setup at the moment! The only small issue I have is that cross-contamination is quite difficult to avoid, so having blue and white cheese on the go at the same time is pretty much impossible, as you end up with everything going everywhere.
The simplest solution to this would obviously be to make another cave 😉