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What are cheese crystals and why would you want them in your cheese?

written by

Aaron Miller

posted on

July 29, 2021

They say “A diamond lasts forever.” The same can’t be said about cheese crystals. But, they are a sign of quality and distinction. A true delicacy.

Have you ever eaten aged cheese and found it to be a bit crunchy? Well, if you look closer, you would see small white dots in or on the cheese causing that crunch. Those are cheese crystals (NOT mold).

Cheese crystals are caused by natural chemicals and proteins breaking down over time as cheese ages. They vary in size, texture, and placement.

So, what’s happening is that, when you make cheese, proteins and fats group together in chains. This is what forms the curds that are pressed into cheese and aged. 

Then, as the cheese ages, these chains of fats and protein break down and sometimes form crunchy cheese crystals.

There are two types of cheese crystals: Tyrosine and Calcium Lactate.

Tyrosine is a non essential amino acid that your body uses to create chemicals like dopamine. Because it’s involved in the pleasure center of your brain, having tyrosine crystals in your cheese increases the perception of savoriness. 

Tyrosine crystals form mainly on the inside of cheese. They are hard and bright white. These are common in cheeses like Swiss and Romano.

Calcium Lactate crystals form when good bacteria break lactose down into lactic acid. Then, the lactic acid combines with calcium to create Calcium Lactate crystals, giving cheese a pleasing crunch.

Calcium Lactate crystals can form on the interior or exterior of cheese. They tend to show up where moisture is present (like in between the cheese and the packaging). They also tend to be a bit softer and paler than Tyrosine crystals. They are typically found in Cheddar, Colby, and Gouda.

You can also have both crystals appearing together. For example, that is what you experience with a high quality Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

For a long time, cheesemakers did all they could to avoid cheese crystals, thinking that consumers would not like it and would mistake them for a moldy health threat. 

But… how the tides have changed. Today, cheese crystals are trendy and represent a delicacy that cheese connoisseurs look for, adding a unique texture and pleasant crunch to fine cheeses. 

Cheese crystals are a feature, not a flaw! And, they’re certainly not going to show up in Velveeta or American cheese (I mean, those aren’t really cheese anyway)!

At Miller’s there are a few cheeses that will likely come with cheese crystals:

Have you eaten cheese crystals? Do you think they’re a flaw or a feature?

Cooking

Raw Dairy

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