You know what's really fucked up about the holiday season? Family.
Don't get me wrong: It's great to see old Aunt Helen, dentures out, gumming a plate of candied sweet potatoes; or Uncle Joe sippin' his fifth Four Roses at 2 PM; or the crazed tension that mounts as distant cousins descend onto the house, arms overflowing with chafing dishes and casseroles.
Family is great, but there's something about family mixed with holidays that makes a rather rational person act like a excited 12-year-old: emotions spinning out of control, the only solace to be found in chocolate and smokes. For the cheesemonger, the holidays are the time of year when our backs are broken and our patience tested, and we all struggle to not accidentally slice off a finger while holding the hands of our dear customers who are in need of so much more than we can offer.
It's important to attempt to maintain some sort of clarity this time of year. This is the time of year when we need to remember that, in the cheese world, we are a family, too. And, just like all families, we need to remind ourselves that we love each other. So maybe this is all a little rambly to get to today's topic, but hey, it's that time of year.
Now, we shall explore the role of the affineur.
In the cheese-making family, Momma is the dairy folk who care for the animal, making sure they are fed, milked, generally tended to, and livin' pretty blissed-out lives. Daddy is the cheese-maker, taking that liquid gold and doin' a little dirty work with some chemistry by making milk into mold. We mongers are like the aunts and uncles, a genetic blend of all our histories, sharing the story of our ancestry with you, the cheese-eater, usually while intoxicated and waving a knife around. Sometimes Mommy and Daddy can't deal with taking care of the kids—in this case, the cheeses—and maybe they need some cash quickly and don't have the months (and sometimes years) to wait until the wheels are matured and ready for market. Maybe they need to focus their energies on the animal-rearing and milking. That's when the affineurs—the grandparents of the cheese world—step in.
Most simply, an affineur is an ager—the artist who take wheels of young cheeses from their makers and turns them into something magical. Affineurs have caves: aging facilities that are the perfect environments for cheeses to grow into their perfect selves. These caves have regulated humidity, temperature, and air flow that can be adjusted for the cheeses' needs. These magical affineurs spend their days flipping and brushing, washing and caressing, and nurturing these wheels to perfection. Just like grandparents, they hold all the secrets, all the wisdom, and a lot of the credit for making us who we are.
And, just like in any family, drinking with them will be the best way to move on through and maintain some sanity during the holidays. Cheers to family.