Sunday, July 16, 2017

How Does The Aging Process Affect Different Cheddar Flavors?

Cheddar cheese just may be America’s favorite type of cheese. Used for grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and many other dishes, it is an all-around basic cheese. There are several levels of flavor in cheddar, and much of that difference is in the aging process. The longer the cheddar is aged, the sharper the flavor grows.
General Aging Timelines
Mild cheddar is generally aged for two or three months. Medium cheddar can be aged anywhere from four to eight months, although some can go as long as a year. Sharp cheddar sits for between one and two years, while extra-sharp cheddar is aged for two years or more. Some prime cheddars are aged as long as six years.
What Happens During Aging
As a cheese ages, the microbes and enzymes that are used to achieve the curdling of the milk target the milk fat molecules and the casein, a milk protein. As these two components are broken down, they become amino and amines acids along with fatty acids. The proportions of these two elements affect the cheese’s texture as it ages. The longer cheddar ages, the drier and more crumbly it becomes. It also becomes sharper in taste. Cheddars that are aged for only a short time are very mild in flavor and pliable in texture. These mild cheddars are often preferred for sandwiches as they are easier to slice. As the milk proteins and fats break down during the aging process, the cheddar dries, becomes much stronger in flavor and more crumbly. They also produce calcium lactate crystals. Some people enjoy the crunchy texture of these crystals.
How Storing Impacts Flavor
How the cheddar is stored during the aging process also has an effect on the flavor. Cheddar can be bandage wrapped or it can be allowed to generate a natural rind. Each of these processes will create different flavors even if every block of cheddar was made from the same batch and aged for the same length of time. One isn’t better than the other—except to individual taste buds—they are simply different. The wrapped or rinded cheddars have an earthier flavor to them. Appropriately enough, cheesecloth is often used to wrap the cheddar.
Final Influences On Flavor
The balance of moisture content, salt, and starter cultures all affect the cheddar as it ages, therefore impacting the flavor. The source of milk and the location where the cheese is produced also have an effect on the flavor of the cheddar as it ages. With so many variables at play, it is no wonder that cheddar can vary in flavor so greatly.

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