Thursday, February 2, 2012


By the time they're shipped form their makers, some cheeses are fully aged and ripened, while other may need days, weeks, or even months to reach their peak. Traditional cheesemakers often relied on specialists called affineurs (ripeners) to bring their cheeses to the final ready state. Such arrangements were part of a tiered system where dairy farmers supplied their product to larger dairies or cooperatives where smaller producers benefit from economies of scale, increased marketing clout, and faster cash flow.

This tiered system is still in effect for many of the larger Alpine cheeses as well as Roquefort and other famous old world types. Many of the top Italian cheeses are selected, ripened, and exported by Guffanti.

Many relationships between cheesemakers and affineurs are historical and regulated, so you can be assured your cheeses are authentic. Roquefort's appellation rules specify not only the breed of sheep form which the milk must come and the permissible production zone but also its ripening, which must occur in the caves of Combalou beneath Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Many of the cheeses are made outside the town itself, but all of them are ripened by producers who own sections of those caves. Roquefort ripening is a well defined procedure, lasting at least 3 months but often as many as 8.

Affinage is about nurturing cheese and letting them ripen in their own time in order to bring out their best qualities. To be successful, an affineur must have full knowledge of the entire equation, beginning with land stewardship, animal husbandry, and milk production, and extending right through each step of cheesemaking. The affineur's skills include selection, tasting, and the application of ripening treatments.

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