Chow Town

Paris Brothers makes real cave-aged cheese in real KC caves

In the underground of Hunt Midwest’s SubTropolis, Ben Hathaway of Paris Brothers Specialty Foods recently showed off a 70-pound wheel of cave-aged Swiss Gruyere cheese stored at the company’s limestone warehouse.
In the underground of Hunt Midwest’s SubTropolis, Ben Hathaway of Paris Brothers Specialty Foods recently showed off a 70-pound wheel of cave-aged Swiss Gruyere cheese stored at the company’s limestone warehouse. rmontgomery@kcstar.com

As cheese goes, it’s great to be “cave-aged.” Caves, after all, stir up just right amount of bacteria and mold.

Hang with us. This is all according to the experts at Paris Brothers Specialty Foods, one of the largest artisan cheese distributors in the country. They’re among the few that can truthfully boast of preparing cave-aged products.

Some creameries age their cheese in cellars (not a cave). Some use partly underground rooms with tight temperature and humidity controls (repeat, not a cave).

Caves are the way cheese makers centuries ago aged their best stuff.

In the limestone mines at Kansas City’s N.E. Underground Drive, Paris Brothers will age some cheeses for long as five years. Optimum temperature: 37 degrees, give or take one degree.

The high humidity, 80 percent, is much easier to maintain below ground than above, said Ben Hathaway, the company’s director of food service. And you want high humidity with cheese.

“We create this micro-climate of bacteria to influence the outside of the cheese,” Hathaway said.

Humidity allows cheeses to develop a dry, moldy crust, resulting in bigger flavors and more complex aromas. Consumers pay more for cave-aged cheese, but connoisseurs can smell and taste the difference in an instant.

The owners of Paris Brothers also make Parisi Artisan Coffee, and its burlap bags of imported beans area stacked high here, too.

At a constant 70 degrees, “this is normal cave temperature,” said co-owner Anthony Paris. “All we’re doing here is moving air.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

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