Cheese Wax vs. Plastic Coatings
If you are a cheese maker, or even if you are just a cheese lover, you may be wondering what cheese wax is, what it does, and maybe even how it is different than plastic coatings. Keep reading this article to find out all about cheese wax and plastic coatings.
What Cheese Wax Is
Cheese wax is a specialty product formulated for coating cheese. It comes in many different colors. Some of the most recognizable cheese wax colors are black, red, and yellow. Cheese wax is unlike many other waxes, such as paraffin wax, because it will stay flexible and won’t become brittle. It is also FDA-approved for direct contact with cheese.
What Cheese Wax Does
Cheese waxes are used to prevent mold growth, while retaining the moisture in the cheese, during the aging process. When cheese has been properly waxed it can have a shelf life of up to 25 years!
Difference Between Cheese Wax and Plastic Coatings
A bit of controversy appears in the cheesemaking world about which method is better, wax or plastic.
Pros and Cons of Cheese Wax
While there are many reasons why to choose cheese wax over a plastic coating, it also has challenges.
The primary benefit of waxing cheese is its ability to preserve the food as it ages. The approach is ideal for hard, dry cheeses like parmesan and cheddar. You can choose either a high-heat or low-heat waxing method. Both help retain moisture in the cheese, but the high-heat approach is also good for killing surface bacteria and preventing mold growth beneath the waxed surface.
Another advantage of cheese wax is its sustainability — unlike plastic coatings, cheese wax can be reused. Some wash it with a mild soap, allow it to dry and then remelt it. Others remelt it first and strain it through cheesecloth. Either way, reuse is great for your wallet and the environment!
Cheese wax is very easy to peel away from the cheese prior to eating the cheese, while plastic coatings can be very difficult to remove from the cheese. When using cheese wax, very little needs to be done after the cheese has the wax on. The only thing that needs to be done is maintaining the proper storage temperatures and turning the cheese every few weeks.
The primary disadvantage of wax is that it’s less than ideal for soft cheeses or those with high moisture content. You must also apply the wax properly and heat it to the correct temperature before waxing. A surface pinhole or too-cool wax may pose issues with mold growth. Plus, waxing is meant to help prevent surface mold on the cheese and may not necessarily stop bacteria growth.
Pros and Cons of Plastic Coatings
Many cheesemakers use plastic coatings as a base for wax or on harder cheeses because of their breathability. These coatings derive from a food-grade PVA glue and help prevent mold during the aging process.
A primary advantage of PVA glue coatings is that they don’t affect the taste or smell of the cheese. When used as a base coat under wax, you can choose a paraffin coating instead. Together, they’re a cost-effective method for storing and aging cheese. Unlike wax, PVA glues are easy to clean up because they’re water-based.
Another common application for plastic coatings on cheese is vacuum sealing. While this is a more modern approach to long-term storage, it has many benefits. Vacuum sealing is quick and inexpensive. Plus, the transparent plastic allows complete visibility throughout the aging process, so you’ll know immediately if mold is forming.
With plastic coatings, the PVA glue process is more complex and takes longer to do. Another disadvantage to plastic coatings is that they may leave “traces” on the cheese during the cutting process, which affects the cheese’s appearance.
When it comes to vacuum sealing, the primary drawback is its impact on the maturation process. Since the vacuum seal is air-tight, the cheese ages differently than it does in wax coatings, which may affect its taste. The sealing process also draws the whey closer to the cheese’s surface. As a result, the aging process can occur faster, so keeping a closer eye on the cheese is vital.
Overall, there are many differences between cheese wax and plastic coatings. Depending on what result you are looking for will determine whether you should use a cheese wax or plastic coating.