|Jon with his cat, Koba|
This takes your dorm sized refrigerator to a whole new level!
As you may know, we sell a refrigerator thermostat which enables you to convert your refrigerator or freezer into a cave by regulating the temperature. This solves the temperature issue. And, for most purposes, you can add enough humidity by simply keeping a wet towel in your cave.
However, for some cheeses, regulating the humidity is just as important as regulating the temperature. You can monitor it with a hygrometer, but controlling it is always a challenge.
We love to hear from folks about how they are dealing with this issue. So, it was our lucky day when we received an e-mail from Jon Little in Black Mountain, North Carolina about his cheese cave. He said he had been buying our products to make his parmesan cheese for the past two years. His parm was fantastic, but his biggest challenge was figuring out how to make a cave that wasn’t a “mold machine.” Through a ton of research and his own “ignoramus ingenuity,” he had finally achieved his goal:
The beauty of what I have created is that I get a 100% reliable 85-90% humidity and temperature of 55F. My cave also pushes in fresh air from my humidifier and keeps the cave mold free. The fridge is a freezer for which I have adevice that allows me to choose the temp and can easily adjust from room temp to freezing. The best part of all is that my total cost is $180. I did have to make my own wooden racks, yet that was fun too.
Jon has given us detailed instructions on how to build a cave like his, and he is willing to answer any questions – firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you, Jon!
How I Made a Cheese Cave for Under $225
By Jon Little
1. Find a used small fridge. Best if it is no more than six cubic feet. A larger fridge will not work with the temp and humidity controls, due to drawing too much power.
I am using a full fridge type by U-Line (Model 75R) that I found on Craigslist for $75. Note: This purchase may change the cost dramatically. This U-Line originally sold for $800 since it was designed for under the counter.
Also, the humidifier is limited to a cave area – no larger.
2. Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm humidity and temperature controller which is designed for a reptile terrarium and is $60. It needs to be the model that can work with up to 1000 watts.
3. Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump (for 170 gallon tank) for $30.
4. Silicone ¼ inch airline tubing (cheaper at $7 for 25 feet). You most likely need more than ten feet option. I use the silicone tubing due to longevity, strength and sterile quality.
|Air lines for the humidifier|
5. Six T connectors and one 90 degree elbow for the airline tubing at about $5. If you have three shelves in the fridge, you only need five connectors.
6. Tropicaire reptile humidifier and air exchanger for $20. This is a simple humidifier that operates with the Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump.
7. Vinyl tubing and a hose clamp for draining of excess water from the evaporator pan area of fridge. I used about ten feet of ½ inch tubing for total cost of $3. Also will need a container for this hose to drain into and tends to fill at about a pint to a quart per month.
|Creating drain pipe for cave|
8. Depending on the type of fridge you may need to make racks. My U-Line had glass shelves and I had to make wooden racks. The wood may contribute to the lack of any mold issues for me and I can’t be certain how the metal racks will do. I still have to use sushi mats as part of the curing process till I vacuum seal my cheese. Also I am a Parmesan fan and this tends to be a less moldy cheese.
At any rate…here is how I did my wooden racks. I used ¼ inch dowel rods that I bought in 36 inch lengths for about $1.25 each. I had left over wood for the sides, yet you could simply use a ½ inch dowel rod for the sides. I used small brass nails to put it together and had to pre-drill holes for each nail. This is a labor of love and there may be simpler options for other creative minds. This ends up being about $7 per shelf (five to six of the dowel rods). For the average cheese maker you will need three shelves and four for the ambitious types. The total cost will be about $20 to $25.
Update April 23rd, 2017:
I have been using my cheese cave without any major issues for over seven years (Winter of 2010). I did figure out a couple of improvements.
First, I continued to need to replace the pump quite a few times. This was not that a costly issue since the have a lifetime warranty. But I was getting some dirty looks after the third exchange at the big box pet store. So I got a stronger pump from amazon. It is a bit louder but is stronger and have been using it with no problems since June 2016:
The strength of this pump does help the humidity jump at least 25% better than the Top Fin pump.
Secondly, I fit an additional line from the pump to the Tropicaire. I had to drill a small hole the size of the tube and then put a diffuser on it. This caused the humidity jump much faster and the pump was not running as often. I definitely recommend this improvement.
I keep a regular Acurite wireless thermometer with humidity reading in the fridge to compare the Zoo Med and they remain consistent. I couple of degrees different, but nothing seems to be off enough for any concern.
The other reason I think I am successful is I got lucky with the fridge I bought from Craigslist. It was at random and I didn’t know it also could be a freezer and did not have any internal fans. Also the size was right for this system. So, I have my fridge set to freezer at the coldest setting. So, the temp drops quick without losing much humidity.
I haven’t heard from others if they struggle with the more traditional dorm style fridge but I wonder if a small freezer that has to be defrosted could be a better move. Most of them already have a drain set in as well. I did get one update from someone who was using a wine fridge and his was pumping out some nice cheese for him. So maybe this will work with any type of small fridge.
Jon Jernigan (formally Jon Little)
1. Make sure you have an indoor space which will work well. Be certain you will not be irritated by the sound this makes with the pump and humidifier noise. They will be going on and off frequently to maintain the humidity. This cave will not work in a space where the room temperature gets colder than the cave temp needs to be. I must have a room above 55F for my Parmesan. Take into consideration the height of the fridge for ease of access since you will be flipping cheese regularly and could get hard on the back bone if it is a long low reach to the cheese. Also, you won’t want to be dropping any wheels on the floor.
2. Read owner’s manual about your fridge. I found mine online even though it was quite old. Most will have schematics and instructions on how to clean it properly.
3. With the fridge unplugged, clean the fridge well according to instructions. Plug in and test to make sure it works well using thermometer. I suggest running it long enough for at least a week or so till 100% confident. It would be a shame to lose the hard earned cheese!
4. Unplug the fridge and carefully identify where the water drain goes to the evaporator pan.
5. Connect ½ inch vinyl tube to the drain spout of the fridge for draining excess water. Position the hose properly to drain well. My cave fit well on a table and made for a good drain.
6. Decide the best method for placing the Top Fin Air 8000 Aquarium Pump and the Tropicaire reptile humidifier and air exchanger. My fridge made it easy for both to ride on top and this may help with the flow of humid air. Once this is settled, connect the Top Fin and Tropicaire. This will take three T connectors to reduce the four leads of the pump to one single lead to the Tropicaire. Use remaining T connectors to create the exhaust tube from the Tropicaire. The T connectors will create a spout to be placed in the middle of each of shelves. The lowest shelf will use the 90 degree elbow to end the run. So if you will need two T connectors for three shelves and three Ts for four shelves. Tape the line in place inside the fridge. Once all is set follow the instructions on filling the Tropicaire with water. Make sure the Top Fin is pumping at maximum pressure.
7. Follow instructions for connecting the Zoo Med’s Hygrotherm humidity and temperature controller. The lead of the sensor may need to be taped to the inside of fridge where it hangs in the center. Set the temperature and humidity for your recipe and have a test drive till confident.
8. Use additional thermometer/hygrometer gage if available for added assurance. I used our digital remote weather station. It was nice being able to see the history and map if there were any odd fluctuations. I have kept mine there for the purpose of proofing this method and so far have extremely consistent readings for 22 months of 55F and 80 to 85% humidity.
9. Once confident then you may need work with the fridge’s door insulation to minimize any cracks caused by the sensor lead of the Zoo Med and the exhaust lead from the Tropicaire. I cut into mine to make a solid seal around the leads.
10. Make the wooden shelves if needed.
11. You may want a good light source to look inside your cave, since the “once was a fridge light” is now controlled by the Zoo Med and on much less.
12. Congratulations! You are now a caveman or cavewoman! So have at it with your cheesy self and enjoy.