These days the majority of people buy cheese from a supermarket, and the only time we ever see cheese with a 'rind' on is if we buy Dutch cheese such as Edam or Gouda, or if we go to one of those upscale food shops which sells wedges of cheese that have a red, or sometimes a black coating.
A single slice of cheese with wax around it is a waste of wax, because the wax is there purely as selling point - it serves little or no purpose at all. On a whole cheese, however, the wax serves a number of very useful purposes, and if you should ever attempt to make your own cheese, you'll need to know how to wax it.
Why Wax Cheese?
Most varieties of hard cheese, such as Cheddar, require 'ageing'. In other words, they are left on a shelf for several months - sometimes years - to mature and develop a fuller flavour. During this time, cheese will lose moisture and attract moulds. In some instances the moulds are actually desirable, producing 'blue' cheeses such as Stilton, but that mould is introduced in a very controlled manner.
What cheesemakers want to avoid is uncontrolled fungal invasion and moisture loss, so some kind of barrier is needed to keep mould spores out and moisture in. Wax is ideal for this job because it can be be applied either by brushing on, or by dipping the cheese into a bath of molten wax. It shapes itself around cheese, and if applied properly it hermetically seals the cheese, touching every square millimetre of the surface and leaving no air pockets where mould can grow.
How to Wax your Cheese
There are two ways to go about this - either make your own wax, or buy commercially available cheese wax.
Make your Own
It's possible to wax a cheese using melted candles or paraffin wax, coloured with children's crayon. If you already make candles, you have everything you need. If not, you can melt unscented candle stubs in a pan with a red - or whatever colour you choose - children's crayon. Let's face it - if a crayon is safe enough for kids to put in their mouth (and you know they will) it's safe enough to put on your cheese. Once melted, simply paint the wax onto your cheese and allow it to harden.
Buy Proper Cheese Wax
The problem with candle wax is that once it hardens, it's quite brittle and can easily crack. You can add vegetable oil to it, but the results are not always successful.
Commercially made cheese wax is similar to candle wax, but has a slightly different formula which makes it more flexible. The application is the same as before, and some cheesemakers also recommend using a plastic coating made of PVA (Polyvinyl Acetate) underneath the wax for a better seal and greater adherence of the wax.
If your wax cracks, it is possible to brush more wax over the fissure, but it's better to rewax the entire cheese.
If you see moisture collecting underneath the wax, again, you'll need to rewax the entire cheese. This usually happens because the cheese was waxed before it had sufficiently dried out.
If you see mould growing on the cheese, remove the wax, cut away the affected area, and rewax the cheese.
Cheese wax can be used many times simply by remelting it. Commercial cheese wax can be heated to around 230°F (110°C), which will get rid of any moisture and bacteria in the wax.