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Why the affineur holds the secret of a top quality cheese

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great cheese, the lactic equivalent to a wine cellar master. Sure, the cheesemaker produces the cheese, using rennet (or vegetarian alternative) to separate the milk solids and whey, and a bacteria ‘starter’ to sour the milk and develop an initial cheese taste, as well as shaping and pressing the curd.

But this is just the beginning, the infant cheese.It is the careful ageing, or affinage, when moulds develop on the surface and microflora in the air build the complex layers of flavour that make for the distinctive flavours and textures that mark out one Gouda or Lancashire or Camembert-style cheese from another.

Time is key. At the recent Academy of Cheese Affineur of the Year award, the bowler-hatted fromage fiend Charlie Turnbull explained that when it comes to Cheddar, ‘three months is barely cheese, six months is barely Cheddar, at nine months you might put it in a sandwich, at 12 months it has the profiles that define it.’Most artisan cheesemakers do their own affinage.

The redoubtable Mary Quicke of Quicke’s nurtures her giant 27kg Cheddar truckles for three months in a ‘nursery’, with regular rubbing and turning, before transferring them to the main ageing room where they spend up to another year.Some specialist affineurs will buy in cheeses and finish them themselves.

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