Affinage

I’d never heard of the word “affinage” until I started to learn about the world of cheese. Obviously the French would invent this term and elevate this process to an art form because no country in the world can surpass them in not only the sheer volume of cheese they produce, but the care and finesse they put into creating it. You’ve probably heard the famous quote by Charles de Gualle, a former President of France asking “How can you govern a country that has over 200 kinds of cheese?”  He wasn’t exaggerating. France produces 1/3 of the world’s cheese in a country not much bigger than the size of Texas. So what is “affinage” you may ask? It is the process of ripening, curing and aging of cheese. This doesn’t mean that you just let the cheese sit there for a few days, no. Cheese can take weeks, months or even years to reach its maturity. Often a great deal of work and care is put into the “affinage”. Next to the actual making of the cheese, the “affinage” can drastically affect how your cheese will taste. It is similar to the aging of wine. The person who does this process or “affineur” will manage the temperature, humidity, turn over the cheese at intervals, and sometimes wash, smoke, brush off, roll, or wrap the cheese in cloth. All of these variables are constantly checked and controlled by the “affineur” and their management of these variables can make a good cheese great.