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Wegmans Opens Cheese Aging Facility

To help meet consumers growing demand for specialty cheeses, Wegmans Food Markets began operations at its Cheese Caves, a 12,300-square-foot facility in Rochester, N.Y., where artisan cheeses are ripened to their richest flavor.

Cheese, according to the Specialty Food Association’s "The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2014," remains the No. 1 specialty food category. Cheese rang up almost $4 billion in sales, an increase of 16.1 percent between 2011 and 2013.

The family-owned retailer believes it is one of the first supermarkets to do affinage, a detail-oriented process that includes turning, brushing and washing cheeses. The aging facility will enable Wegmans to deliver soft artisan cheeses at their prime to customers.

“Our customers will get a cheese that’s absolutely perfect, with the taste and texture they prefer, every time,” said Cathy Gaffney, director of specialty cheeses, deli and kosher deli for Wegmans.

The Art of Aging Tastefully

The facility has a Brie room and seven caves where soft cheeses like Camembert and washed-rind cheeses are being developed. As many as eight different kinds of cheese can be ripened within the facility at the same time. Each cave is between 185 to 200 square feet and houses only one type of cheese at a time, so the flora from one type never mix with those from other kinds. Temperatures and relative humidity are controlled separately for each cave and a generator assures continuous power in case of a power failure.

“Building the Cheese Caves lets us take our commitment to customers who enjoy premium, artisanal cheese to the next level. In the last 10 years, the interest customers have shown in the world’s best cheeses has grown phenomenally,” said Gaffney. “Many have traveled abroad, tasted the best, and want that kind of enjoyment available at home.”

Eric Meredith oversees the affinage. He’s a chef and registered dietitian who learned the art of affinage from Hervé Mons, one of the world’s most celebrated affineurs. Over the next three years, the staff is expected to expand, adding about seven full-time jobs to the local economy.

Wegmans, Gaffney said, is “actively building partnerships with artisanal cheesemakers” who will be able to focus on creating cheese while Wegmans will ripen and market the cheeses.

In related news, Wegmans and Cornell University have created a pilot program that will help more artisanal cheesemakers in New York State develop the expertise they need to create world-class products. Wegmans made a $360,000 gift to Cornell in support of that pilot program.



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