07 January 2010

Waxing Cheese

Power is a crucial element of live-aboard boating - even sailboating. Particularly for the IntraCoastal Waterway (ICW), where we will be relying on the diesel engine rather than the sails for the majority of our travels. And, being two poor college kids, we're trying to avoid expensive marinas and just drop anchor in secluded inlets.

This poses some extra problems - we rely on batteries for all of our power, which can be recharged by running the diesel. However, when we're not connected to shore power (ie when we're not at a marina), we need to be very conservative with our power. This means NO REFRIGERATION.

Wait. No fridge? But then how will we handle meat, or milk, or eggs, or leftovers, or...? Well, yeah. That's kind of a problem. I suppose we could just go vegetarian for a while, but I actually have an emotional attachment to cheese. I consider it my main food group. And while fresh fish is only a fishing pole away, I do enjoy some good venison (having been raised on venison, I can no longer enjoy beef. I can almost hear the "Gasp!" from all the steak-lovers, but I'd take venison chops over a New York strip any day).

So, in order to cater to my love for cheese, I had a problem to solve. Question #1: Does cheese need to be refrigerated? Some quick internet research tells me both yes and no, but being an optimist, I choose to believe those that say 'no.' Question #2: What needs to be done to keep cheese from going bad outside the cool climes of the fridge? Cheese has been around for much longer than refrigeration. This question actually led me to consider making my own cheese, but it didn't seem worth the effort. Anyway, the answer to the question is an integral part of the old fashioned cheese making procedure: sealing the cheese in wax.

My foremost barriers to waxing cheese were the availability of cheese wax. Cheese wax is less brittle than paraffin. In fact, even at room temperature it was slightly pliable. This means it is less prone to cracking, thusly ensuring your sealed wax is fairly safe through a few tumbles. My aunt, who makes her own cheese, recommended I visit her favorite home brew store for some cheese wax. She and I both make wine, and apparently making cheese is closely related to making wine. Second, the site I trusted most as a guide (Cheese Wax Will Save Us All - clearly these people understand my relationship with cheese) referred to a "boar's hair brush." I never actually acquired one of these brushes, but did okay with a substitute brush. Third, I needed a double boiler for the wax. Mom wouldn't let me destroy any of her pots, so I used a clean tin can in a pot of water. Also, I highly recommend gloves. My guide said use them for sanitation, I think my biggest benefit from using them was that I kept dipping my hands in the wax, too.

So, having assembled my equipment (and cheese, of course), I began devising my own directions. The Cheese Wax guide said I should hold each dipped bit of cheese in the air for 90 seconds. Well, that might work if you're waxing a large wheel or block, but I was waxing a pile of portion-sized blocks. Dip half, wait 90 seconds. Dip the other half, wait 90 seconds. 90 seconds times 2 halves times 3 coats times 20-30 blocks of cheese equals a whole lot of time I don't have.

So, instead, I assembled a doable line of cheese. I waxed half, then set it on wax paper to dry. Then I moved on to the next block of cheese. After having done half of each block, I then did the other half. For the second and third coats, I rotated the cheese blocks so that the seams were in a different direction each time (a seam being where Half 1 meets Half 2 of the first coat). So there were three dipped coats of wax, and then the instructions said to apply a fourth coat with the brush. That fourth coat is where things went a little awry, I suppose.

My sources said to keep the wax around 200 degrees F, which I couldn't really measure, but the pot of water was kept to around 200.

Of course, I encountered some problems. Mainly, there was an occasional bubble where the wax didn't stick to the cheese. It usually stuck the second or third coat, so I didn't worry about it too much because there was still a seal, but we'll see how it turns out later. Also, wax occasionally dripped into the pot (Mom, don't read this). Make sure to lay out newspapers everywhere!

The brush I used for the fourth coat was not extremely pliable, and so the last coat was full of serrations - not very smooth at all. Possibly too thick. But there were no boar's hair brushes available at the place where I bought my cheese wax and I didn't want to wait to order one online, so I knew I was working with substandard equipment for that fourth coat. Even so, I think the cheeses still turned out alright. I'll find out for sure once we're under way and crack one open! The best part about cheese wax is that it peels right off the cheese, and then can be melted and reused! Most internet sites say to melt it then strain it through cheese cloth or similar, but in a pinch, any little cheese bits float to the top and are pretty easy to scoop off. Oh, and finally, I tried to wax some cheese with bits of jalapeno in it, but it was pretty oily and the wax didn't stick too well. Also, when I finally gave up on that and tried to peel the wax off, it was full of jalapeno bits and not really usable.

Behold, my cheese supply! I believe I waxed around 5 lbs with 1 lb of cheese wax, but since I was using small blocks of cheese, there was a lot of surface area. Using larger blocks, one pound of wax will go a long way.

No comments:

Post a Comment