Streams

Chilling Out in a Cheese Cave

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Michael Anderson in a cheese cave. Michael Anderson in a cheese cave. (Photo by Daniel P. Tucker/WNYC)

When you’re sweating like an ogre on a 95 degree summer day, Michael Anderson is keeping cool while keeping an eye on about 20,000 pounds of cheese.

Anderson is the cheese cave manager and affineur—cheese refiner or ager—at Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street, where the tons of cheese are kept in five subterranean caves with temperatures between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Anderson is so acclimated to the nippy underground caverns, he often just wears a T-shirt to work. During a heat wave, he runs into a problem only when he tries to leave after his 10-hour shift.

“I find it's a bit tough in the summer, the going back and forth between extremes. Because I'm pretty comfortable during the day, I can get used to sitting down here in 50 degrees, often in like short sleeves, and then going outside, I just sweat like a pig,” Anderson, 26, says.

All the cold means the cheese will develop properly. The five caves are kept at different temperatures and relative humidities based on what type of cheese is inside.

“Most of what we're doing down here is taking care of micro-organisms. And if we're doing that then the micro-organisms are taking care of the cheese,” Anderson says. “All the different styles, whether it's molds, or yeasts, or bacteria, have different tolerances for heat and humidity, so that's why we keep the rooms at different levels.”

Cave 5, which is kept at 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 percent relative humidity, holds Anderson’s favorite cheese of the moment.

“It's a cheese called Meadow Creek Grayson. It's a raw cow's milk cheese out of Virginia. Washed rind. And this time of year, it's just like super clean, and grassy, and pudding-y, and fantastic.”

Day to day, the caves are closed to the general public, but you can visit them by signing up for Anderson’s "Mystery of the Caves"—a two-hour tour where you'll learn the science behind cheese aging and enjoy a sampling of what’s ripe.

The next “Mystery of the Caves” is the night of August 2. Tickets are $75.

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