Like whiskey, wine, and bad haircuts, cheese only gets better with age. Cheese that starts off mild and creamy gets sharper, earthier, denser, and more complex as each week and month goes by. Bite into a chunk of aged cheddar or a gouda in its golden years and you'll experience an avalanche of awesome flavor you just can't find in a fresh, young cheese.
In Wisconsin, we've perfected the art of patience as we wait for our parmesans, asiagos, and cheddars to mature. Our cheesemakers won't interrupt the cheese aging process one minute too soon, so we'll happily bide our time with some of Wisconsin's finest fresh cheese until the grand old cheeses are ready for the spotlight. And since Wisconsin is home to the tastiest, highest-quality, most award-winning cheese on the planet, we know the wait will be worth it.
Poke around our website to meet some of the most famous graduates of our cheese aging process. Search our recipes for inspiration for a game-day cheese board or Wednesday night quesadillas. Or scroll down for more info on the awesome art of cheese aging.
Cheese aging brings out certain flavors and textures in cheese that only time and more time can create. During the cheese aging process, bloomy cheeses blossom, blue cheese gets its funk on, alpine-style cheeses find their holes, and parmesan develops its crystalline crunch and crumbly texture.
Cheese aging is all about giving time to a variety of chemical processes that take place inside and outside of the cheese. As cheese ages, good bacteria within the cheese convert lactose in the milk to lactic acid, giving certain cheeses their sharp, tangy flavor. Chains of proteins in the cheese break down, giving cheeses like gouda and gruyère that nutty, meaty feel, or providing brie and camembert with a luscious gooiness. In blue cheeses, mold within the cheese is allowed to grow over time to form the blue-green veins that give the cheese its funk and flavor. And washed-rind cheeses like limburger and brick develop bacteria on the cheese rinds that transform and ripen the cheese within.
Cheese aging is also about moisture. As weeks and months go by, the texture of many aged cheeses changes from soft and elastic to firm and crumbly.
Cheese can be aged in any climate-controlled environment where cool temperatures and high humidity allow the cheese to age at an even and controllable pace. For this reason, many cheeses were traditionally aged in caves, and cave-aged cheese is back in style as cheesemakers continually search for the best way to create the perfect cheese.
Some cheeses like burrata, mascarpone, feta, and mozzarella aren't meant to be aged long at all. These cheeses are typically moister varieties with a different set of microbes and bacteria. Aging them would only rob them of their form and flavor.
Parmesans and cheddars are often aged at least two years and often longer.
Parmesan cheese is made by milling the curd into very small pieces to release as much of the liquid whey as possible – it's the key to achieving the firm texture of parmesan. The curd is pressed into large wheels and immersed in brine for three weeks or more to soak up the salty flavor, then aged on shelves for 12 to 36 months where it is regularly cleaned and turned.
Burrata is a fresh cheese that is not aged. It's made of an outer shell of fresh mozzarella that's filled with cream and fresh mozzarella curd.
Feta cheese is made by cutting the curd into smaller blocks that are salted and dried for several days, then submerged in a salt brine for several weeks or months. When the cheese is ready, it is shipped and sold still in its brine.
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When you're looking for a great aged cheese – an aged cheddar, parmesan, or a swiss cheese like gruyère – look for a cheese made in Wisconsin. Our cheesemakers have been obsessively making the world's finest cheese for 180 years, since before we were even a state. So, safe to say, they've got the cheese aging thing down.
If you're not convinced, you're welcome to take a peek at the 5,552 cheese awards on our Wisconsin cheesemakers' mantles – including plenty of wins for our aged cheeses. Truth be known, no other state or country has as many blue ribbons pinned to its collective chest as cheesemakers from Wisconsin.
So next time you're holding a chunk of aged cheese in your hand, just make sure there is a Proudly Wisconsin Cheese badge on the label. That way you'll know your cheese has been aged to perfection.
Craving award-winning aged cheddar, pining for parmesan, or searching for a new cheese to try? The world’s best cheese is just a click away! Explore our directory of Wisconsin cheesemakers and retailers who offer online cheese shopping and get cheese shipped right to your door. What are you waiting for?
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In Wisconsin, we make more flavors, varieties, and styles of cheese than anywhere else in the world. We believe in tradition, producing everything from Italian classics, like parmesan and ricotta, to swiss cheese and cheddar varieties. But every Wisconsin cheesemaker is an innovator as well, which is why we have so many Wisconsin originals, like colby and muenster. Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, potatoes au gratin, or a charcuterie board, Wisconsin cheese makes every dish and recipe tastier.