A lot of people think that they want to work in a cheese cave,” Caroline Hesse, the head of sales at Crown Finish Caves, a cheese-aging company in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said, standing by a door marked “Employees Only.” “Then, when they realize that you’re in a tunnel that’s thirty feet underground for eight hours a day, a lot of them are, like, ‘Oh, maybe not.’ ” Hesse opened the door to let in a visitor.
Crown Finish’s cheese cave is situated below one of the old Nassau Brewery buildings, on Bergen Street. The company’s owners, Benton Brown and Susan Boyle, bought the building in 2001 and converted the four stories aboveground into art studios. Then they had an idea for what to do with the vaulted brick tunnels beneath the building, where the brewery once aged lager. Brown had been learning about affinage, or cheese aging. Affineurs buy “green” wheels of cheese from cheesemakers who don’t have the time or the space to minister to the cheeses for the months or years needed before they’re ready to be sliced into wedges and sold to consumers. “Cheeses that don’t need to cave are like ricotta, mozzarella—things that don’t have a rind on them,” Hesse said. “Everything else—Brie, blue cheese—needs to be put in a cave.” The Nassau Brewery tunnels, which hadn’t been used since the brewery closed, in 1916, and where the ambient temperature has stayed a cool fifty-five degrees for more than a century, are an affineur’s dream.
Hesse put on a red hairnet, a blue lab coat, and a pair of white plastic clogs—mandatory cavewear—and made her way down a spiral staircase. Crown Finish gets asked about the clogs, which fans spot on the company’s Instagram. “A German man sent us an e-mail saying, ‘I think they would go great with a lot of my outfits,’ ” Hesse said.
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