Last week tacos were on the menu at our house. J.’s were built with ground beef from our friends at Jordandal Farms, mine with refried black beans. Being Wisconsinites, the toppings included some tasty grated local cheddar. I finished off a chunk of the Hook’s two-year, J. had their one-year. This particular hunk of two-year was the first time I think I’ve encountered big, crunchy crystals in my cheddar. (Lacking a better comparison, the biggest ones were about the size of a Nerd candy.) I did a little poking around online, and it seems that crystals in cheddar are calcium lactate that results as the cheese loses moisture and lactic acid crystallizes. It’s apparently more common in longer-aged cheddars. It was bit unexpected when I first encountered it, and it sort of felt like coming across a chipped piece of my own tooth in my biteful of taco!
In my online digging, I rediscovered this piece by Kyle Nabilcy that I had read in the Isthmus (our weekly alternative newspaper) when it first appeared. I’ve never tasted the Hook’s 15-year cheddar, but inspired by Kyle and other aficionados, I’ll try to take a positive view of those odd crunches in my cheese, even if I’m still not sure why there so many in this particular chunk of a relatively young cheddar. If you want more info about cheddar crystal formation that is technical but not wholly (!) inaccessible to a non-cheesemaker, check out the lead story in this PDF from the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research.