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Building a farmstead cheese cave  RSS feed

 
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We make artisan cheese on our South Carolina farm and need to expand a cheese cave. It's a very small family farm and, as such, money is very tight. We do already have a large (60' X 30') cement slab available that was used previously for something else, so we hope to construct a cheese aging cave there. Unfortunately, going underground isn't possible/practical for us at this point.

My challenge is this...what is the most cost-effective (cheapest) way to build a cheese cave on that slab? Here are things I'v considered.

  • Purchasing a 30X60 metal building (I-beam construction), insulating it and covering the internal insulation with washable material
  • Purchasing one or more used refrigerated trailers, connecting them if needed
  • stick building the structure, which of course requires a large roof as well


  • This building will need to be kept at 52-55 degrees year round, and maintain humidity of 88-92%. I'm considering cooling with standard air conditioners connected to coolbots. Of course, whatever choice we go with, it has to be very well insulated.

    I appreciate any help/advice the community has, as construction isn't my area of expertise. Thanks!
     
    steward
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    Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
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    How about cobb? Seems to me that you could end up with something like a cave, without going underground. This of course depends on you having the components for building cobb on site, or can at least just buy some of it.
     
    pollinator
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    Location: Anjou ,France
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    Probably a silly question but what sort of land are you on ? Just because you have a concret pad does not mean you have to use it .
    Where I live in in France its quite common to build your own cave into the limestone cliffs Loire valley. Different parts of france sell differing cheese dependant of the rock type of the caves they store the chesse in .

    David
     
    John Cabot
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    Land is lots of clay...and lots of granite!
     
    David Livingston
    pollinator
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    mm not the best for making your own cave then

    David
     
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    Energy wise it sounds like you need an underground bunker. You may want to dig a hole and and put some insulated shipping containers in it.
     
    Posts: 185
    Location: SW Missouri
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    I'm not sure what a coolbot is, but I do know if you cool with a standard air conditioner, you will never achieve the humidity you desire. As the air travels across the evaporator and the freon is evaporated inside, causing heat to be released from the air and transfered to the freon as the state of the freon is changed from liquid to gas, condensation forms on the evaporator coils and drips off, think of the puddle of water under your car while its running. All of this water came from the air.
     
    Posts: 45
    Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
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    Hi John,

    Did you build your cheese cave? We'd love to hear how you got on, as we're wanting to build one ourselves and would appreciate any advice.

    Regards
    Lesley and René
    (In Camembert country!)
     
    gardener
    Posts: 1884
    Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
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    I too am curious what became of the need for the cheese cave that started this thread.

    Just my opinion here, so many variables, including the builder/cheesemaker's priorities, but I've been "researching" as in, struggling, with this question for awhile now.

    I think if I can achieve the cooling without the high tech refrigeration units, I bypass the condensation problem AND the cost of running the compressors that run the refrigeration units.

    I have very low humidity where I am, and when I am running in the 60s, I am very happy.    I tried running a small humidifier for awhile but then I had trouble keeping the temperature low enough.   And so when it is 8 percent humidity and 95 degrees outside and I hade temps in the 60s and humidity in the 60s, I considered that a success.  I figure that people began making cheese in the pre-industrial era, and it is our high tech state of culture that even makes us try for the narrow parameters of 88-90% humidity and 55 degree F temperatures.

    My cheese is not as moist after 8 months in my cave, as my friend who seals each of her cheeses in plastic, before putting it in her small "wine" cooler.  But her cheese and my cheese are both delicious.

    I think the different cheeses developed in their various  regions because of the conditions in the aging spaces, including the endemic microbiome.  The book "Natural Cheesemaking"  <<http://www.theblacksheepschool.com/david-asher>>is a great resource in encouraging interested folk to try living with the conditions they have, modifying them if they want, but accepting the cheese that develops as their perfect farmstead cheese.  And you can name it whatever you want.

    My stereotype of South Carolina is that it is humid, very humid, so that the highest priority would be to bring the temperature down.  In humid conditions, evaproative cooling won't work, and if you put the cooling coils from your refrigeration unit into your cheese space, then you'll dehumidify in a hurry.

    If you can dig underground til you get deep enough for the ambient temperature to be close to 55, that would solve everything, natural humidity and natural cooling.

    If you can imagine or find out how people in your climate made root cellars, you will be on the "low tech inexpensive to operate" track.

    One thing I might try would be to dig down deep enough to partially bury a shipping container, do the structural stuff around it to keep it from caving in, and above it adequate to support the load of earth above it, then back fill around and over it. 

    I think if you look at Paul's designs for wofati rooves, they include dry layers of soil and moisture barriers.  Dry soil does not weigh as much and I think is a better insulator.  Alos worth considering would be a light clay "roof". though how you would get it to dry in the high humidity I am imagining in South Carolina is beyond me.

    My ramblings have brought me to the idea that the building forum is the place to find ideas and expertise on low cost natural building.  Clay and granite sound like materials with great potential.  And since it is not for humans to live in, many rules that apply to living structures might not apply.  But humans will be going in there and what ever you decide to do, make the structural support for the roof adequate to the load and then some.  (I am overly cautious, I'm not sure I wold feel safe until I had 4 times the required strength for the load I was putting on top.
     
    lesley verbrugge
    Posts: 45
    Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
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    We have a traditional well, 8metres (about 22ft) down to water level, we've been wondering if we could make an octagonal 'box' attach it to the chain and lower that down?! Anyone done that?
     
    pollinator
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    Lesley: I believe that could work for you.  Temps that deep should be in the 50-60 F range. Not sure what the humidity would be like with the water ... but I would definitely try it.  My forgotten cheese cave of 3, buried 55 gal barrels is working 100 % !  No rodents, no bugs , perfect temp and humidity. Inconvenient, yes , lowering cheeses down in a Styrofoam box is not as handy as walking into your root cellar. But we use what we have... you have a well , I would try it !
     
    lesley verbrugge
    Posts: 45
    Location: 48°N in Normandie, France. USDA 8-9 Koppen Cfb
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    Many thanks for your encouragement Thomas. It's on the to do list! Somewhere below Apple pressing, walnut oil making, soap making, top bar hive construction, geoodome construction, erecting solar panels...
    Life's good, if somewhat busy!

    We'll definitely give this a try next year, it seems logical and a lot easier than digging a hole!
     
    pollinator
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    Location: Otway, Ohio, USA
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    I need a cheese cave as well. I will be making mostly spanish cheeses like queso añejo and manchego (queso fresco too, but since it is a fresh cheese I don't need to store it in a cave or cellar). I worry that my cave may not be dry enough what with the rainy and humid summers in Ohio. Mine will be dug in under the outdoor kitchen. Is there a standard depth at which a cheese cave will stay about 50 - 60 F?
     
    thomas rubino
    pollinator
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    Hi Ryan;
      I don't know for sure how deep , I would guess at minimum 6' , mine is 3 welded 55 gal. barrels  apx 10' deep.    Works superb all summer but in the winter in a basically unheated building at around or below zero outside  the bottom of my hole was 33-32 F   just a little to cold especially since we store potato's down there as well.
    I was just laying a piece of Styrofoam over the barrels and throwing an old piece of carpet over that. Just not quite enough. 
    I discovered that a piece of 6" foam rubber squeezed in tight and then covering with carpet will keep it around 40 F all winter long.
    My shop building where the cheese cave is located, is getting a serious winter upgrade this year .  Pouring the rest of the floor , replacing two leaking doors with insulated stud walls , and best of all... I sold the old double barrel heater and I'm building an all brick rocket mass heater with two large brick bells.  Hopefully it will stay at least around freezing in there overnight instead of matching the outside temps like it has for the last 30 years.

    If this option doesn't sound viable for you, then consider buying the kit to modify the thermostat on a  refrigerator or a chest freezer . Provided you have electricity available. you can set the temp you want.  
    Another fellow built a small insulated room and modified a room air conditioner to keep it a certain temp.
    Lots of ideas  ... the cheapest being dig a hole.
     
    Ryan Hobbs
    pollinator
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    I have been in natural caves before where the temp is constantly in the 60s F. The frost line where I live is about 3 ft deep. If my cave had 4 ft of soil on top and a well insulated door, it should remain above freezing all year. The real issue is managing thermal mass.
     
    Posts: 437
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    Management of thermal mass is not an issue in my mind, what are your concerns?
     
    Ryan Hobbs
    pollinator
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    John C Daley wrote:Management of thermal mass is not an issue in my mind, what are your concerns?



    The ground itself and the stone walls of the cave are the thermal mass of the cheese cave. We have to manage the heat. In the winter there needs to be sufficient insulation and connection to the earth to prevent freezing. The thermal mass is to regulate temps. We have to construct the walls in direct contact with the subsoil to create continuity between walls and subsoil. If we leave gaps or install arteficial insulation, the thermal mass of the earth will not be transfering its temperature to the walls efficiently. Furthermore, the water in the soil will regulate the moisture in the cheese cave because of a lack of waterproofing. Drain tile will keep it from flooding, but the humidity from porus walls needs to be maintained at 70-90% to properly age hard cheeses like manchego and queso añejo. The temperature needs to be 50-65°F as well. The cheese will not directly contact the stone, but will be on wooden shelves which are dosed with appropriate rind molds. So we have to have a way for convection to occur. The material used for the floor is of some importance. I have considered both brick and gravel. I believe brick to be the best. Afterall, we are trying to mimic a natural cave environment.
     
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