If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to pluck a Wisconsin cheese curd from the bag and pop it into your mouth*, you know how important it is to hear the cheese squeak as you chew, thus, indicating its exquisite freshness. Alas, after a day or two, the squeak — and a lot of the joy — is gone. Some intrepid scientists wanted to know: is there any way to extend the squeak so folks outside of Wisconsin can experience this wonderful feeling?
In a paper [PDF] published this week from scientists at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, the study’s authors get to the heart of why fresh curds squeak when you chew them (h/t Cheese Underground).
“In the simplest terms, the squeak in cheese curds is created when our teeth compress the protein network in the cheese and it resists but then rebounds as our teeth pass through it,” authors Mark Johnson and Pat Polowsky write. “The rebound is what generates vibrations and causes the squeak.”
Magical, magical squeaks.**
So why do the curds stop squeaking when they lose their freshness? As the cheese’s calcium phosphate breaks down, the curds can’t resist and rebound against teeth like they used to. This is unfortunate, because it means many people have never had the chance to experience a fresh cheese curd, the study’s authors lament.
“Given the popularity of this delicious snack, it’s not surprising that many consumers around the country are interested in experiencing this squeaky treat,” researchers write. “Unfortunately, due to the short window in which cheese curds stay fresh and squeaky, many individuals living outside of Wisconsin cannot enjoy this unique delight.”
There’s hope in sight for non-Wisconsinites — or for people who don’t have mothers willing to transport numerous packages of cheese curds to the East Coast in a cooler — however.
“Thanks to consumer requests and feedback from the industry, however, CDR staff are now studying cheese curds in order to find a way to extend the squeak,” the authors note.
Researchers found that storing cheese curds at refrigerator or freezer temperatures can help to extend shelflife from a few days to about three and a half months.
“This is likely the case because the cold temperatures reduce the proteolytic activity,” researchers note, adding that cheese makers can minimize rennet additions and lower acid production to improve the shelf-life of fresh curds.
*You really need to try fresh, not fried, cheese curds.
**Yes, I am from Wisconsin and thus, biased.
by Mary Beth Quirk via Consumerist