Date: 27-Jul-2005 18:36
Author: Hoke Harden Email
Subject: What's the crunch in Parmigiano-Reggiano?
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Culled from a fascinating article in a trade newsletter from the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano, edited by Nancy Radke. Since their intent is to get the info out, I feel comfortable sending this along:

"Parmigiana-Reggiano has aperceptable crystalline texture that crunches between your teeth. So what is it?...Salt? Nope.

The crunch in P-R is actually the crystallized free amino acid tyrosine. During the aging process, enzymes active in the cheese break down the milk proteins into their smaller nutritional elements--peptides, peptones and free amino acids. This natural process makes P-R incredibly digestible, because the cheese enzymes are breaking down the proteins in the same way your small intestine does in order to get the nutrients in the proteins into a form your body can absorb.

So the crunch is your clue that his cheese will be very easy to digest quickly with little strain on your system. That's why Italian doctors recommend P-R as a topping for baby's first rice cereal or stirred into cooked rice and fed to children and adults suffering from digestive problems. Not only does it deliver protein, calcium, phosphorous and vitamns A, B6 and B12 in a very gentle way, P-R also makes bland foods taste a whole lot better.

And what about those crystals...? They begin accumulating in the cheese after about one year of agin and become more numerous the older the cheese gets. You actually can see the crystals of tyrosine. They are surrounded by pale polka dots which are visible on the flat-cut surface of the cheese, and in more aged P-R they form tiny crystalline pearls. Tyrosine (from the Greek tyros, meaning "cheese") was first discovered in cheese made from raw milk in which enzymes are active. You might also have encountered that crunch in other aged raw-milk cheeses like artisan cheddar and long-aged gouda.

Here's one last good thing about those crunchy crystals. Tyrosine is a building block for serveral important brain chemicals--epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, all of which work to regulate mood. Deficiencies in tyrosine have been associated with depression [That's why the Italians are always so damned happy, eh? That and the wine.]

Interesting info, and very well written!