The initial reaction most people have when they see something unfamiliar on their cheese is that it isn’t supposed to be there and is therefore bad. Some common concerns people have when they see the crystals on aged cheddar include thinking the cheese is old, thinking it’s a cheese mite, thinking the cheese is drying out or even thinking the cheese makers added it on purpose. The reality is that they are natural crystals that won’t harm you in any way and therefore shouldn’t cause concern.
Put simply, these crystals are lactic acid that has aged and become crystallized as the cheese got older. Experts refer to these crystals as tyrosine which is the name of the non-essential amino acid that they are made up of. This protein is the dominant one found in milk which explains it presence in your aged cheddar.
If you want to know how the tyrosine crystals form, you need to understand a bit more about the structure of the cheese. As the cheese is produced, various proteins and fats become trapped within protein chains. These protein chains were bonded together during the process of acidification that helped make the cheese and this is necessary as these combinations of proteins and fats are what make the curds that lead to the making of the cheese. If the cheese ages for a long time, then these protein chains will start to unravel and as they do, small and crunchy deposits will form as a result.
Adds To The Cheese
While some people are unsure about the tyrosine crystals found in aged cheddar, others feel that they can add a great deal to the cheese. If your aged cheddar is nice and smooth, the crystals can add a bit of texture to give you some variety. Other people feel that these crystals will help the cheese and your beverage of choice work together. A classic example is if you have well-aged cheddar and are drinking it with a full-bodied stout. When having that combination, some people feel that the crunch in the cheese will give it a textural intensity that helps to match the fullness of your beer, improving the overall experience.
Some other cheeses will also have crunchiness that isn’t due to tyrosine. If the cheese is a wash-rind cheese then it may be that residual salt crystals were left during the washing process and you can tell the difference because the crunchy white stuff (the salt crystals) will only be present on the outside layer.