Celebrating Semi Hard Cheese!
A dazzling array of cheese fall in to this category, ranging from the classic cheddar, to Gouda’s, Tommes, Havarti, Edam, Colby, Double Gloucester and Red Leicester and Raclette.
The main characteristics are that they are firm and have a longer aging process than the fresh or soft rinded cheese. During the process of making these products, the curd undergoes some warmer temperatures but is not “cooked” to the degree of the harder styles such as parmesan. The rinds of these cheese are important to enable optimisation of the cultures in the internal development of flavour and texture but the rind doesn’t influence the flavour to the same extent. The maturation of these cheese is much slower and in comparison to the softer style of cheese, the internal pate of the cheese is where the cultures impact the most rather than working from the outside in like the whitemould cheese, for example. When young, the cheese is general mild, sweet and milky but with each passing month, the flavour profile intensifies and the cheese becomes more complex.
Size and Age matter
The size of these cheese tend to be larger which enables slower ripening, which takes at least two months, but some may develop for more than 12 months. The bigger the wheel of cheese, the longer and slower the maturation process. By controlling the cultures in the cheese and maintaining the optimum balance between the cheese cellar humidity and temperature in the relation to the cheese, the cheesemaker can control the process of ripening and therefore the final flavour profile of the cheese. To understand the age of the cheese as a consumer, it’s best to keep in mind, the following sub-categories for cheddar.
- Mild – matured for 1-3 months
- Semi-matured – 3-6 months
- Mature or tasty – 6-12 months
- Vintage – 12-24 months
The development of the rinds is influenced primarily through the use of salt and the attraction of natural yeasts and moulds that occur in the maturation caves. They are primarily responsible for protecting the interior of the cheese, allowing the perfect exchange of moisture as the cultures within ripen. The rinds also protect the interior from unwanted moulds.
Natural rinds give greater complexity to the cheese as it matures by allowing the cheese to breath. The flavour that develops becomes distinctively earthy and crumbly in texture. The traditional rind for cheddar is lard and cloth.
More industrialised rinds that prevent moisture loss in the cheese and slow flavour development are through vacuum packaging or wax coatings. A cheese matured this way will be fruity with a moist texture.
Interesting bits of information
Calcium lactate crystals – often mistaken as mould growth, these are those small, crunchy white crystals that develop in a very mature cheddar. They provide a distinctive zesty bite to the cheese and generally speaking, are formed through an imbalance in solubility (moisture movement) within the cheese which is directly affected by its storage temperature. They can be seen as a fault in some products but generally speaking are a desirable outcome for mature cheese.
Every now and then you might see a small blue vein running along a crack in the cheddar. This is a sign that the cheese has a natural rind. If there are too many, it can be classified as a fault in the cheese and will impact the flavour of the final product. These small cracks are a result of the cheese drying out too quickly and the cheese not being treated gently enough. If the cheese gets knocked around during affinage, it will cause the interior to develop cracks.
Keep in wax paper which allows them to continue to breath. These cheese are more sturdy and therefore not as sensitive to variation in refrigeration from a domestic fridge but, if you’re lucky enough to have a ceramic cheese bell, these are the most ideal storage conditions