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Chat Leftovers: Crystals in her cheddar

Happy Wednesday, all. If you hadn't already realized that the holidays are creeping closer, today's home page for Food will remind you, with Where to order your local Thanksgiving turkey. It's our annual list of Washington area farms that sell fresh birds: some of them organic, some heritage, some pre-brined, all ready for you to pick up before Thanksgiving.

It's never too early to start thinking about holiday cooking. Here at the Food section, we've been testing Thanksgiving side dishes and Christmas cookies for months now. So we won't think it at all odd if you want to talk turkey -- or yam, or pecan pie, or figgy pudding -- during today's Free Range chat. Just stop by at noon for an hour of questions, answers and general information sharing.

If we don't have time to answer your question, don't fret. There's always a chance I'll tackle it during next week's Chat Leftovers. Here's one from an earlier week:

I cut into a block of cheddar cheese last night. The package said it was special: "Aged over three years! Extra sharp!" To my delight, it flaked. It also had curious, almost crystalline bits inside. It tasted amazing. To my husband’s dismay, the dragon-breath it imparted lingered, even after I brushed my teeth (twice!). Obviously, I’m still alive today. But what happened to the cheese? Why did it flake? What were the little crystals? Is it okay to keep eating it?

Clearly, this question called for a cheese expert, and where better to find one than Cheesetique in Alexandria? Shop manager Sarah Mason knew all about those gritty bits. Not only is your chunk of cheese okay, but it turns out the bits are a good sign.

The crystalline pieces are caused by tyrosine, the product of an amino acid reaction that occurs as the cheese ages. They're often found in cheddar and are actually considered a desirable trait: a hallmark of a fine aged cheese. "Many people really appreciate the crunch it adds," Mason said.

The flakiness you experienced is another sign of aging, she said: As time goes by, the cheese loses moisture and becomes a little flakier or more crumbly. Again, not a defect. So go ahead and finish up that block.

But about the breath? Mason didn't even want to guess. I'm not a doctor or a dentist -- don't even play one on TV -- but I do have a computer, and a quick stroll through the Internet showed me that some people experience bad breath after eating some types of cheese. It seems sort of random. Maybe this particular cheddar just happened to affect you somehow. One thing you might try next time: When you brush your teeth, brush your tongue, too. Cheese tends to cling there. If that doesn't work, I guess it comes down to a choice: your fabulous cheese or your husband. Let me know which one you decide to keep.
-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  | October 20, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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Nothing in the world beats good aged cheddar. My family visited a cheese store in Milwaukee last year and tasted 10-year-old cheddar. Absolutely delicious!

Posted by: margaret6 | October 22, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

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