An affineur is a person who ages (some like to say "matures") cheese. Many cheesemakers act as their own affineur, overseeing the aging of all their cheeses. Some cheesemakers hand their cheese over to affineurs to ensure that the cheese is aged properly before being shipped to stores or sold to customers. Increasingly, some cheese stores have taken on the role of affineur, aging cheese to their own idea of perfection before selling it to customers.
How Cheese Is Aged
Affinage, the process of aging cheese, is considered to be both an art and a science. You must have learned skills and natural intuition. Great affineurs know how to coax greatness out of every wheel of cheese. Affineurs often train for years. An affineur must possess the following knowledge and skills:
- Know the characteristics of different styles and types of cheese
- Know how all different types of cheese are made
- Know the ideal flavor profiles, aromas, and textures for all different types of cheese
- Know the characteristics of a cheese at peak ripeness
- Know the proper environment for aging different types of cheese, which includes adjusting humidity and temperature
- How to care for cheese as it ages, including turning, brushing or bathing the cheese
- The ability to communicate the flavors and textures and background stories of different types of cheese
- The ability to work well with cheesemakers, cheesemongers and store owners and age cheese according to their specifications
How to Become an Affineur
Many affineurs begin by working in cheese shops as cheesemongers. This is the best way to gain an in-depth understanding of all different types of cheese and to learn basic techniques for properly taking care of and storing cheese. Working in a cheese shop can also help build relationships and contacts with wholesale cheese sellers and cheesemakers.
Working as an apprentice or intern with a cheesemaker who ages their own cheese is also a good way to learn about affinage. There is no way to truly understand how to age cheese until you understand how cheese is made.
Cheese professionals might be interested in Academie Opus Caseus, a center in France that offers courses and training in affinage.
Where Is Cheese Aged?
A cheese cave can be a literal cave made of rock in the mountains or a modern cave (more like a room, cellar or walk-in refrigerator) that has been constructed specifically to age cheese. Cheese "caves" can be built next to barns on farms and cheese "caves" can also be inside buildings in the middle of Manhattan.
Temperature and humidity play an extremely important role in maturing cheese. A cheese cave is essentially a place where both these things can be controlled to create an ideal environment for the type of cheese being aged. Cheese caves should be very clean - affineurs often wear lab coats and hairnets or hats.
Cheese caves should also have different areas for different types of cheese. The good bacteria and mold that's being encouraged to grow on one wheel of cheese could have a negative effect on a different style of cheese.
For example, you wouldn't want a wheel of goat cheese with a bloomy rind aging right next to a wheel of blue cheese.
For more information about how modern cheese caves are run, read this interesting blog post about what a cheesemonger from Formaggio Kitchen learned during a visit to The Cellars at Jasper Hill.