Parmigiano Reggiano (aka parmesan) is known for its long aging process which may take up to 3 years to age.
The minimum duration of which can be sold at the store is to have at least 3 months (or 12 months for some parmesan brands) of maturation. That’s for the probiotic bacteria and enzymatic reaction to kick-in in order to produce the unique Parmesan umami/savory taste and smell.
The longer the maturation, the stronger the taste, and therefore higher in price.
I discussed in detail about the bacteria responsible in parmesan.
While the maturation of the cheese can take up to years, it’s normal to see white spots appeared on the parmesan. Like many other hard cheeses (including asiago and gouda), the white spots also called “pearls” are the crystallization of amino acid protein (1), which in particular, tyrosine and leucine. They could also be calcium lactate crystals (2).
One good way to tell apart crystals from the mold is that mold will almost certainly to just grow on the outside (surface of cheese), while cheese crystals can be found from the inside of the cheese.
Crystals is a sign of well-aged parmesan cheese.
This is likely noticeable for parmesan over 2 years in age, such as this one you can buy some via Amazon.
The parmesan with white crystals are safe to consume.
Sometimes it can be confusing. Therefore, if you don’t find them appetizing or not sure they are mold, you can always trim or cut off at least 1-inch below the spot.
Read the differences of Cheese crystals vs Molds.
The lactic acid bacteria involved in cheese ripening breakdown the lactose into lactic acid. Lactic acid binds with calcium to form calcium lactate.
Will you get sick from eating spoiled parmesan? Read more in Can Parmesan Go bad?
White mold – Should I throw them away?
In some cases, the white spots are not crystals but mold. It could be a combination of bacteria and fungi, such as the E. coli, Scopulariopsis, and Salmonella. So when it comes to food safety, it’s better not to push your luck.
See the topmost featured image above. The cheese is covered in white stuff. Do you feel safe to eat it?
Do not confused with frozen parmesan cheese. It’s the result of cheese get contaminated, forgot in fridge, or left out at room temperature. The mold slowly took over the cheese in days, or sometimes even hours.
After all, cheese is a perishable food. Cheesemaking is a process to invite only a certain group of bacteria to grow. The uninvited ones are inhibited either by naturally or with human involved such as using salt, temperature, etc. The bacteria are then produced desirable aromas, flavors and textures. Read how parmesan is made.
Where are these nasty thing from?
Imagine there is 1500 active bacteria are now crawling happily in each square centimeter skin on your hand, and potentially virus too. You’ll know we human have no problem inviting them.
Likewise in cheesemaking, we make use of a favorable environment to outnumber certain good bacteria so the chances of you get sick after eating it becomes very low. In fact throughout the production process, the different types of bacteria population fighting over each other for this piece of tasty cheese.
Under the microscope, you will see some bacteria are found more actively in the early curdling stage, while some others are doing better in the later aging stage.
By using salt or brined water in a nicely warmed environment, the predominant thermophilic lactobacillus bacteria grow quickly. They synthesized compounds as weapon to resist the growth of other type of bacteria. Apparently, there is winner in war — and the result is favorable to all of us cheese lover.
Mold can have many forms or patterns. Some may look like patches of black stains, or fuzzy white specks, or just look like bread mold. It can be in various colors too.
Is parmesan an organic product? see the answer here.
If you accidentally ate a mold-infected parmesan, depends on the types (some produce toxins), you can get very sick from that. The golden rule is do not eat it if you are not sure.
There you have it, the white spots are likely to be crystals most of the time.
Thanks for reading!