ACS Winner Crown Finish Caves: Tunnels, Booze & Affinage

CrownFinishPayMaster3 (1 of 1)Last week I wandered the underground tunnels of ACS winner Crown Finish Caves and have decided what I want to be in one of my next lives. Paymaster. A pampered little cheese kept in a perfectly humidified and air-filtered environment that gets washed down in Kings County Distillery chocolate whiskey daily.

The American Cheese Society Conference is a chance to do many things. See friends from all corners of the country who sling or coagulate fermented milk- often all at once, and in a karaoke room. An opportunity to try cheese from creameries I can’t get my hands on in California -here’s batting my eyes at places like you, Ruggles Creamery, Chaseholm Farm, and Goat Lady Dairy. It’s also a chance to visit fantastic affineurs like Crown Finish, shops, and cheesemakers near the conference.

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Local liquors in which lucky cheeses are bathed.

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Suffolk Punch foreshadowing Paymaster

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Experimenting with Gritti Brothers buffalo milk square

My friend Kathleen Cotter of the The Bloomy Rind and I usually team up for visits. The process normally looks something like this. We excitingly call each other three months before the conference, decide we want to visit cheesemakers galore, then promise to email with follow up research the next day. Then, two months later we send each other an email saying we’ve been busy and will follow up the next week. We repeat this a few times. Two to three weeks before the conference, we make a plan!

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Because ACS was in Providence this year, we had a wealth of east coast spots to visit all over Brooklyn, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. One spot we visited was ACS winner Crown Finish Caves in Crown Height’s, Brooklyn.

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Bloomy, washed, and ashed buffalo milk squares.

Crown Finish Caves is a cheese care/affineur facility that ages and tends to cheesemaker’s wheels after they’re made. Meaning they store the cheese, flip wheels, wash rinds with booze (and oh my does Crown Finish have a lot of it), control temperature and humidity in caves, and experiment with new aging techniques and flavors. This is called affinage and requires much experience to know what to do when. And they do it all underground in old subway tunnels.

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Benton surveying Trifectas (sheep and cow’s milk cheese by Old Chatham) getting air after a beer washing.

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The twisting staircase leading to the underground tunnels. The tunnels also used to home to local Brooklyn breweries.

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A question I get a lot is why can’t cheesemakers age cheese themselves.

They certainly can, and many are amazing at it. But sometimes they don’t want to. Because they’re busy, you know, milking cows and making curds and stuff. Or, sometimes they don’t have the space or labor to keep an eye on their wheels like they deserve. Other times they just like to collaborate with lovely people like Crown Finish owners Benton Brown & Susan Boyle, and affineur Sam just because they’re fun (they’re pretty cool people who hang out with cheese in subway tunnels and rub it in booze all day, you know what I’m saying?).

Benton and Boyle bought their Crown Finish building- sort of an office/warehouse/loft space- in 2001 and started to ready it for renters and food service. Then they started to think, hey, not only were the old subway tunnels underneath the building cool looking, the cool looking old subway tunnels would be perfect for aging cheese. They had the right temperature, humidity, and air flow (once the filters started pumping away) and ample space.

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Kashar by Parish Hill

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CrownFinishExpirement (1 of 1)Crown Finish caves is a story of their inspired passion. Benton trained with famed affineur Herve Mons and with cheesemakers and agers in the United States, then, started experimenting with local cheeses.The rest is delicious history. Some creameries Crown commonly works with are Coach and Spring Brook, Parish Hill.

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These are photos of their varied stash and a couple of the caves themselves when I managed to get enough light. Also, hate to say it, but if you haven’t had a chance to try their ACS winner Humble Herdsman, you probably won’t in the future either. They’ve got under twenty wheels left (but cheesemaker Peter Dixon is now maturing his own). But try to get your hands on their other beauties like Paymaster at your local shops. East coasters will be luckier, and bribing your local cheesemonger may apply.