Wegmans Cheese Caves
The Rochester-based chain is the country’s first to launch its own cheese ripening facility
By Donna De Palma
If you’re a cheese lover, you may want to pick up a round of “1916,” a tart, tangy and slightly sweet aged goat’s milk cheese ripened with loving care in Wegmans’ high-tech cheese caves located in Rochester.
Named to honor the year the grocery chain was founded, 1916 is the brainchild of Wegmans affineur—a person who ages cheese—Eric Meredith, who discovered the subtle flavors of goat’s milk cheese while living and working in Roanne, France. “I fell in love with this cheese; pure goat’s milk cheese that’s creamy yet so silky,” Meredith says.
According to Meredith, Wegmans’ 1916 comes to its cheese caves from Vermont Creamery as a green cheese. “We get it on Day 2, stop the aging process, then it’s shipped to our cheese caves,” he explains.
Once on-site, the young cheese goes through an 18-day process in a temperature, humidity and outside-airflow controlled environment where it’s unboxed, turned by hand and nurtured until fully ripened.
Early in the ripening process, an affineur uses vegetable ash to stencil a Wegmans logo on the top of each round. The final product, a 4-inch disk, can be cut into wedges.
According to Cathy Gaffney, Vice President of Deli and Cheese, 1916 is just one of the artisanal cheeses that Wegmans is producing since the cheese caves launched in April 2014. Wegmans is the first among supermarket chains in the country to have its own facility for the process of ripening cheese best known as affinage.
They’re producing finished products that include washed-rind cheeses from the Burgundy region of France: a velvety Affidelice, washed in Chablis and made from full-cream cow’s milk, and Bourbon Washed Pie d’Angloys, a creamy cow’s milk cheese washed in Bourbon that’s soft and slightly salty.
Washing with alcohol affects color, flavor and texture. Wild Fox, a washed-rind French cheese washed in Dry Riesling from Fox Run Vineyards to add local flair, is a popular offering.
“We went to many regions in France known for producing the finest cheeses to research European techniques and to see the facilities where these cheeses are ripened,” Gaffney says.
She came up with the idea of building cheese caves here after attempting to produce soft-ripened cheeses in some of their stores. “It was too difficult to control conditions to guarantee a consistent quality. Our goal is to craft a perfect cheese every time—cheeses that are unique to us.”
Although Wegmans’ cheese caves aren’t underground, the 12,300-square-foot center has a brie room and seven individual caves, each between 185 to 200 square feet. Only one type of cheese is ripened in each cave at a time so flora from one type never mix with those of other kinds.
Wegmans plans to find more cheesemakers to partner with right here in the United States who can deliver fresh cheese for ripening. They’ve joined forces with Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to develop artisanal cheeses and to educate producers in New York State about food-safe cheese.
Donna De Palma is a freelance features writer who specializes in food, farms, green topics, travel and lifestyle.
This piece is from our dairy-focused Fall 2015 issue. For another story from that issue, click here.