Affinage (pron. Aff-in-arge) is the age-old technique of maturing cheese. It is such a unique skill set that there isn’t a direct English translation.
In 2012, I was awarded the Churchill Fellowship’s Jack Green scholarship which allowed me to study this craft with cheese whisperer Ivan Larcher in France, at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London’s Borough Markets and at Jasper Hill Cellars in Vermont, USA. There is no degree or diploma in affinage – instead it is learnt through experience and guidance from a mentor. An understanding of microbiology and dairy science is a must, as the science learnt helps when viewing, smelling, touching and tasting a cheese during its time spent ripening.
It is a combination of alchemy, sensory evaluation and science which allows an affineur, or cheese maturation expert, to help guide a cheese to its full potential. In order for the affineur to understand what the cheesemaker is trying to achieve in flavour, texture and aroma, they need to have an understanding of the farm itself: the soil, grass, animal breed and cheesemaking techniques. All these variables play a significant part in the flavour profile and life of a cheese – variations in feed, weather, animal lactation and so on mean no two batches of cheese are ever the same. Just as the cheesemaker has to adapt their recipes, the affineur must adapt their processes to get the best out of the cheese.