Affinage (cheese maturing) is, without doubt, a form of alchemy. It is a demanding process which varies for every type of cheese or rind. In addition to an excellent knowledge of cheeses, a constant attentiveness is required from those responsible for choosing the most suitable ageing conditions and assessing the ageing progress, to allow the customer to enjoy cheeses that have been slowly brought to their ideal maturity. The maturing of cheese is of course a matter of personal taste - different people may prefer a particular cheese at varying degrees of maturity; however, for the experts there comes a specific point in time when a cheese has attained its optimum ripeness and at which it best expresses its flavours and the distinctive characteristics of its terroir.
The cheese's rind must be left to transform naturally under the combined effect of the rennet and the micro-organisms within the cheese and on its surface. This process is called proteolysis and its completion requires several weeks for a Camembert and up to several months for a hard cheese.
Once this stage has been reached, the cheese is at its peak. Its flavours express themselves fully and its rind has become perfectly smooth.
The maturing process varies depending on the type of rind.
In more simple terms, maturing a cheese involves careful treatment and monitoring until it reaches the optimum ripeness at which it can express its full aromas.
Affinage requires a lot of time... and patience. The process takes place in cool, damp conditions. Humidity and temperature are two of the determining factors in the process and these vary according to the type of cheese. This is why different cheese ripening rooms or cellars are used to allow the different cheeses to mature in suitable conditions.
The level of affinage is also a matter of personal preference. Different people may prefer a particular cheese at varying degrees of maturity; however, for experts there comes a specific point in time when a cheese can be said to have attained optimum ripeness; this is the moment at which it best expresses its flavours and the distinctive characteristics of its terroir.