The Greater Culture: Salting, Brining and Aging Cheese

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The Greater Culture: Salting, Brining and Aging Cheeses
Part 1 (starting equipment, basic processes, making cheese curds): https://www.homebrewtalk.com/culture-cheese-makling-basics.html
The HBT Cheese Forum: https://www.homebrewtalk.com/forumdisplay.php?f=130

Before we get too far into more cheese recipes and styles, there are a few more basics to cover. After this, you'll have a solid groundwork to build your cheese portfolio from. In this section, I'll go over what salting and brining are, as well as ideal aging environments.
Salting and Brining
Salt is a powerful ingredient in the cheese world. It prepares the cheese for aging, helps prohibit mold growth, and boosts flavor. While some mold is expected, and even encouraged, you only want it on the outside (except blue and friends).
After your cheese is done pressing, it is time to "salt" or "brine" the cheese. Both are methods of adding salt to your cheese (inside and out). The salt will be drawn into your cheese and moisture will be drawn out of the cheese.

Brining And Aging Cheese For Improved Flavor
Types of Salt
Salt is Salt right? Wrong. Not all salt is created equal, at least in cheese making. While table salt can get you by, sea salt, kosher salt, or "cheese salt" are all better options that should be readily available to you.
If you must use table salt, like Morton's etc, you MUST NOT USE IODIZED SALT, as it contains iodine which is kill your cheese cultures. Once the cultures are gone, the cheese will stop developing. After your cheese is done pressing, you are ready to salt.
Surface Salting
Surface salting takes place in the open air.
The general formula for how much salt to use is:
1 Tablespoon per pound of cheese (1 gallon of milk makes roughly 1 pound of cheese).
Spread the salt as evenly as you can across the surface area of the cheese. It's okay if it isn't covering every centimeter as the remaining moisture in the cheese will help spread the saltiness around. As the cheese dries, and the salt pulls moisture out of the cheese, a rind may begin to develop on the cheese. A rind is the firm shell that a cheese gets on the surface. The rind will help protect your cheese while it is aging. On softer cheeses, the rind is softer (think Brie).
Larger cheeses need to be brined. The larger the cheese the harder it is for a surface salting regiment to be effective.
Brining Cheese
A brine is a salty solution that you soak your cheese in before moving it to be dried. While it sounds silly that adding something to a liquid to help it dry, the amount of salt in solution will be what helps your cheese dry. There are two types of brines, saturated, and unsaturated. A saturated brine will have roughly 25% salt and will have a sediment of undissolved salt on the bottom. These are used for dryer cheeses. An unsaturated brine is around 18% salt.
Preparing the Brine
To make a brine, save the whey from your cheese making. Brines with saved whey have better PH and calcium balances. Warming it up will help dissolve more salt. Brines can be reused indefinitely as long as they don't grow mold and you keep the salt levels up. If your brine becomes moldy, boil and strain out the mold, and your brine will be ready to go again.
You should add some calcium chloride to your first brine because osmosis (again!) will suck the calcium out of your cheese (1 Tablespoon per gallon is a safe amount). You only need to add calcium to a brine once. Don't mix brines that are made for bleu and other moldy cheese with non moldy cheese brines (just like sour and non sour beers). Store the brine in a cool area not warmer than 55F.
If you use water to make brine instead of leftover whey: Acid should also be balanced to around 5.0 PH with a bit of vinegar or citric acid. Without balancing the brine, your cheese may become slimy and cause rind development issues.
Now here's salt amounts for the amount of salt to add per half gallon of brine:
Un-Saturated Brine - 1lb Salt
Saturated Brine - 1.5lbs Salt
If you don't want to be picky, a saturated brine will be saturated once salt no longer dissolves, so you can slowly add salt until it no longer mixes in.

Enjoy Your Own Delicious Hand Crafted Cheese
How long?
Cheese gets bathed in the brine depending on its weight. Each pound of cheese will soak for 2 hours (EX: 3 pounds would be 6 hours). If your cheese floats, you can sprinkle salt on the top of the cheese. Flip the cheese half way through the process. Once brining is complete it is ready to air dry.
Drying Cheese
After the cheese has been salted it's time to dry. It is best to have the cheese elevated on a cookie sheet or similar raised surface to allow the bottom to drain and air out (instead of sitting in a pool of moisture). If your cookie sheet has wide spaces between it, you can lay a sushi mat down to avoid grill marks on your cheese. I flip my cheese half way through the process. Drying typically takes around 24 hours. You can tell a cheese is done drying by:
  • It being dry to the touch
  • Having a matte finish instead of a shiny one
  • A rind may begin to develop. The rind will further develop as the cheese gets aged
Cellaring Conditions
Besides acidifying the curds, cellaring is a critical part in having a successful final product. Cheeses are like babies, and are very specific in their needs. fashioning a cellar can be a bit of a challenge to due to their requirements.
Temperature
The temperature should be between 48-56F (this also varies depending on the cheese). Too cold and the cheese won't develop, that makes fridges harder to work with. Too warm and the cheese will over-ripen. Now you may say you have a separate fermentation fridge set to that very temperature. But, the next requirement is another knock on standard fridges.
Humidity
The humidity should be between 80-90%. Refrigerators remove moisture from the air. This can be combated, but requires more management on the cheese makers part. If the humidity begins to create condensation on the cheese surface (humidity too high), unwanted molds can quickly take hold. Too dry and the rind may crack, ruining the cheese's protective barrier.
Fresh Air
This isn't as big of an issue with older cheese, but as younger, more moist, cheese develops, replacing the air in your cave is important.
This is usually done second hand anyways, as your young cheese should be flipped over daily. The higher moisture in young cheese will pool at the bottom of the cheese (on the inside). Flipping it will keep the moisture balanced throughout the cheese.
  • It is possible to make a makeshift cellar from coolers with a rack, ice packs, and damp paper towels.
  • If you must use a fridge, keep the cheese in a large container (elevated inside of it if you can, with a damp towel and in the warmest part of the fridge (vegetable crisper).
  • Wine cellars are nice as you can set the temp to the proper level, and the dehumidification is much more gentle than a standard food fridge.
 
This is an excellent overview of brines and salting. Just made some feta yesterday, which obviously uses a nice salty brine. It was a good reminder about the whey-brine having a more easily balanced pH. I made mine out of water before I thought about it, and I'm going to have to check the pH in a couple of days to make sure it's acidic enough.
 
@SwissHillsFerments Yeah the simple table cheese I used for the pictures ended up getting a water based brine because I forgot to save the whey when I drained the curds.
 
Good article on salting the cheese. I forgot about adding calcium chloride to the brine (heard it on Little Green Cheese podcasts and forgot). Thanks for the tip.
 
If my cheese floats while brining and after I flip it do I sprinkle salt on the new top side? Also, what kind of cheese is in the first picture? It looks great. I'd give you a thumbs up on this article if I could. Thank you!
 
@shelly_belly I do, but you can likely get away without it.
The cheese in the first picture (and second picture actually) is a simple table cheese I'm working on nailing my recipe down on. It's very close to being were I want it, and you eat it after just a few days.
 
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