NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Thirty feet beneath the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn are hidden tunnels—full of cheese.
The tunnels belong to Crown Finish Caves, a facility devoted to affinage, or cheese aging.
“The tunnels date back to 1850,” head of sales Caroline Hesse said.
The underground caverns formerly belonged to the Nassau Brewery.
“These tunnels used to just have big open vats of wildly fermenting lagers and things,” she said.
In 2001, Susan Boyle and Benton Brown bought the then-dormant building. In 2014, the first wheels of cheese were put in place. Today, roughly 28,000 pounds of cheese are ripening at Crown Finish.
The cool, damp environment—kept at 51-52 degrees Fahrenheit with 93 percent humidity—promotes the growth of molds key to the aging process.
“I think that a lot of people don’t know how much mold is involved,” Hesse said.
The cheese’s mold is carefully controlled and safe for consumption.
“When I tend to say that to customers, they get a little wary,” Hesse said. “But it’s good mold.”
Crown Finish receives young cheese from producers as far afield as Bergamo, Italy. The cheeses ripen for up to several years before they’re taken to market.
The Tubby, handmade at Spring Brook Farm in Vermont, is an Alpine-style cheese in a hulking 30-pound wheel. The Queen of Corona, from Toledo, Spain, is made from pasteurized goat’s milk.
The caves are filled not only with cheese—several times a year, they echo with music.
Cave Music is a subterranean concert series showcasing bluegrass and folk artists. Due to the outsized popularity of the event, tickets are sold by lottery.
Concert attendees don’t get the chance to approach the cheeses, however.
Since hygiene is paramount, the cheese-filled tunnels are reserved for employees, who change into clean shoes, lab coats, and hair nets before entering.
“Ninety percent of what we do is hand washing,” Hesse said.
She says it takes a meticulous person to work in a cheese cave. One such person is cave manager Ethan Partyka, who spends much of the workday brushing, flipping, and scrutinizing wheels of cheddar and goat cheese.
“You get a newfound appreciation of how much care goes into a product—and how long it can take,” he said.
Crown Finish Caves
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