The Aging Process
Aging is a critical stage in cheese-making. Nature provides what goes into the animals
initially, but humans control the finishing of the cheese. Just as climate and geography
determine the taste, color, and nutrition of the milk, so temperature and humidity
contribute to the final product. A lower temperature can slow ripening; a higher one can
hasten it. Adding or removing moisture is also crucial at this point. Parmigiano Reggiano,
which ripens for up to three years, becomes hard as the moisture evaporates, and the
concentrated, protein-rich, flavorful cheese remains.
It is in the aging that the cheese can become sublime or be destroyed. To get them to
market faster, many inferior cheeses are only partially aged, then shipped refrigerated.
Perhaps the producers think that when the cheeses warm up, they’ll magically finish
ripening. This doesn’t work with cheese any better than it works with fruit. Picking fruit
before it’s ripe, then refrigerating it makes for terrible, mealy peaches or apricots or