Sometimes aged cheese contains crystals. However, these crystals in your cheese are not salt crystals. The white dots on your old cheese consist of protein. This protein is converted into amino acid and calcium salt during ripening and this ensures that crystals are formed in the cheese.
Salt in cheese
The crystals in cheese therefore do not consist of salt. However, cheese is a high-salt product. The salt in the cheese is necessary to suppress the growth of microorganisms. In addition, it improves the firmness and taste of the product. Therefore salt is an indispensable addition to cheese.
It would therefore make sense to stir a significant amount of salt through the curd during production. However, this does not happen, because then the necessary acidification of the cheese will eventually be endangered. The acidification of cheese is important for the firmness, taste and shelf life of the product. The lactic acid bacteria that cause this acidification do not like salt at all and that is why a different method is used, the brine bath.
Cheese “swims” during production from half a day to five days in this bath, filled with a strong solution (18-22%) of table salt. During this period, the cheese absorbs a few percent of this. This absorption percentage differs per cheese: a Maasdammer, for example, only absorbs about 1 to 1.5% salt, a Dutch Farmer’s cheese 1.5% and a ‘ordinary’ Gouda cheese 2 to 2.5%.
Crystals in cheese
Your old cheese does contain salt, but no salt crystals. The crystals in the cheese consist of protein and this makes sense, because the dairy in the cheese is a natural source of protein and calcium. For example, one 20 gram slice of Gouda cheese contains 225 mg of calcium and 5.000 mg of protein.
However, protein alone is not enough for a protein crystal. There must be a germ (start) to which the protein can attach. This can be, for example, a dead bacterial cell, a dust particle or an unevenness on the surface of the cheese. As the cheese ripens, a protein crystal is formed around this germ that is visible to the human eye.
Crystals in cheese: a delicacy
We rate the white dots on our old cheese as positive. For example, our old Dutch Farmer cheese is only delivered when it has a beautiful crystal.
For us, a protein crystal is an indication of a good, ripened taste. In addition, the protein accumulations give the structure of the cheese more depth. You can really taste them.
Protein crystals and good aged cheese are thus inseparable for us.