When I make a wheel of cheese (and traditionally a wheel of Cheddar cheese), I can finish it by bandage-wrapping the rind. Bandage wrapping means just what it sounds like: wrapping with bandages. These cloth strips serve several purposes:
1) They hold moisture in, helping to prevent the wheel from drying out.
2) They let small amounts of oxygen in (so that a small amount of mold can grow at the rind).
3) They let gases produced while the cheese ages out (essentially letting the cheese breath).
4). They keep unwanted contaminants off the cheese (flies, lint, mites and so on).
I enjoy bandage wrapping wheels of cheese because it gives the cheese a nice aesthetic as well as lets the cheese develop a more robust and unique flavor profile. If you don’t make your own cheese wheels or if you want to get right to the fun, you can also try this process using pre-made (store-bought) blocks or wheels of cheese. Choose ones that have a sealed rind and that are not high in moisture (such as aged cheddar).
Step 1: Gather Cheese, Cloth and Melted Fat
You can use cloth purchased just for this project. You can use re-purposed cloth such as pieces of an old shirt. The main requirements are that the cloth is made of natural fiber (I’ve only used cotton) and that the material is light-weight (if it is too thick, you won’t be able to fold it easily over the rind).
When you’ve selected your cloth, clean it before cutting it. I run mine through a wash and dry cycle OR I boil it in water for 2 minutes. Dry cloth completely before beginning.
Step 2: Cut Four Circles and Two Belts
NOTE: You are going to wrap your cheese twice so you will be cutting out double the amount of shapes from the cloth.
Using your cheese as a guild, cut out four circles which are 1/2 to 1 inch larger than the cheese wheel itself. Think of the way you might use a pie plate to cut out a pie crust (cutting the crust a bit bigger than the plate). The same is true here.
Next, cut out two belts from the cloth, making sure the belt is 2 to 3 inches longer than the circumference of the cheese. This belt will literally belt around the side of the cheese. It needs to overlap slightly but it should not be wider (or taller) than the height of the cheese. Set these three pieces of cloth aside.
The photo gives you a sense of how the cloth pieces are going to be applied to the cheese.
Step 3: Gather a Solidified Fat
You’ll need about 2-3 cups of a fat (for roughly 2-5 pounds worth of cheese). Choose a fat which is solid at room temperature. Strained bacon drippings are one of my favorite fats to use! I also work with butter (salted or unsalted), beef tallow and coconut oil. Prepare the fat by melting it slowly in a warm water bath. Be sure the container is leak proof–and never set a cold glass fat-filled jar in very hot water. Plan for it to take 10-20 minutes for the fat to melt.
Step 4: Chill the Cheese Wheel
Set your recently-made or recently-purchased wheel in the refrigerator for one hour. The goal is that the cheese is cool enough that the fat-drenched bandages will firm up quickly once they touch the cheese. Another cheese prep detail to remember is that the rind of the cheese should be dry and not moist to the touch.
Step 5: Cover Cheese Top
Set up a work area that can become messy (I spread newspapers or wax paper over my countertops for an easy clean up). Then cover the top of the wheel with a thin layer of fat. I use a pastry brush but you could also just spoon some fat onto the cheese then smear it with your finger tips.
Once there is a layer of fat, take one of the clean, dry cloth sheets and dip it into the melted fat. Shake off excess drips then spread it over the top of the cheese. Use your fingers or a bone fold to push out any air bubbles.
Step 6: Cover Bottom of Cheese
After waiting a short moment (2 minutes) for the top layer of fat to cool onto the cheese, flip the cheese over and repeat the process on the bottom of the cheese. Make sure to pull the cloth tightly and to press it into the cheese surface to remove wrinkles and air bubbles.
Step 7: Belt the Cheese
After waiting a few minutes more for the fat on the bottom sheet to set, dip the belt into the melted fat (you don’t need to pre-coat the belt area). Roll the belt tightly around the side of the cheese and make sure it overlaps slightly (ending where it started).
As you wrap the belt, you will be covering up the slight excess of fabric that hangs down from the top and bottom of the wheel.
Step 8: Press then Repeat
Once you have completed one cheese wrapping, you should repeat steps 5 to 7. In between the first wrapping and the second, place the cheese into it’s original form and add pressure. Here, I’ve topped the once-wrapped cheese with a salad plate then a heavy jar of honey.
Pressing at cheese after bandaging pushes the bandages deep into the cheese. A double-wrapped cheese will be even more resistant to surface mold growth than one wrapped only once.
Step 9: Move Cheese to Cave
Take your once (or twice) wrapped cheese and move it to an aging location. This location could be on top of an aging mat, inside an aging bin, then in a fridge or wine fridge (see Kitchen Creamery section on ‘caves’ for more details). This location could also be on top of a wooden board, on a shelf in a true cheese cave.
Keep your cheese in its aging environment for anywhere from 1 month to 2 years. The length of time will depend upon 1) the quality of the cheese you’ve wrapped, 2) the temperature and humidity of the aging environment and 3) how successfully you’ve gotten the bandages to adhere to the cheese surface.
Routinely flip your aging bandaged cheese, making sure that the humidity is not too high (your cheese will have excessive mold growth and develop soft spots) or too low (your wheel will have little mold and the cheese inside will be dry and crumbly). Regularly brush off excess mold growth using your hand, a brush or a piece of cloth dipped in brine. There will be mold growth–that’s to be expected–but you don’t want the cheese to become excessively hairy.
Step 10: Remove Bandages
It is a good idea to remove the first layer of bandages outside or in the sink since it may be messy. First remove the belt, then remove the top and bottom layers. Between the first and second layers, clean your hands so as not to transfer molds from the exterior onto the actual cheese. Carefully peel off the inner layer. You may notice some mold growth immediately on the cheese. Just cut this away.
Step 11: Enjoy!
Once all the bandages have been removed (and tossed or composted), it is time to enjoy your cheese. You may possibly (likely) have more cheese than you can eat at once or give away. Do not rewrap extra cheese in the original bandages. Instead, use cheese paper. Or seal individual pieces tightly in vacuum bags.