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I love the flavor of sharp cheese (especially cheddar) and was wondering what exactly it is that makes aged cheese taste sharper. I was also wondering if there are any ingredients that emulate this sharp flavor.

  • 1
    "Sharp" in the sense of cheese is an Americanism, and I think the language affects the perception. – Chris H Jul 20 '18 at 19:10
  • Possibly but there is a definite flavor difference between cheeses described as mild vs sharp. And it differs from how other foods change their taste as they age. I feel like many cheeses get smoother as they age even if their flavor is stronger. But cheddar definitely gets tangier as it ages. – Jordan Reiter Jul 21 '18 at 2:51
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The term/process you are looking for is acidity or acidification. During the cheese making process lactose is broken down into lactic acid. This lowers the pH and creates the tart, sour, or acidic taste you are referring to. Higher acid cheeses (lower pH) present as "sharper", an old cheddar, for example. Ever have a salt and vinegar potato chip? I get a similar flavor perception (minus the lactic, cheese flavors of course). So, other acidic ingredients (vinegar, lemon) can easily get you in the same flavor perception ball park.

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Perhaps you are referring to the umami flavor.

Per cooks illustrated:

There’s more than one reason that classic combinations like a burger and cheddar cheese or the Parmesan cheese and anchovies in a Caesar salad taste so good: Not only do such ingredients simply go well together but it turns out that they contain complementary umami boosters that magnify flavor by as much as thirtyfold. More and more food scientists are concluding that when ingredients rich in naturally occurring glutamates are paired with ingredients that contain either one of the nucleotides inosinate or guanylate, the perception of umami, or savoriness, is dramatically

Rich In Glutamates

(MG/100 G)

  • Parmesan cheese 1,200-1,600
  • Fish Sauce 950-1,383
  • Soy sauce 800-1,300
  • Tomato paste 680
  • Cured ham 337
  • Anchovies/sardines 280
  • Beef 107
  • Cheddar cheese 78
  • Worcestershire sauce 34

Rich In Nucleotides

(MG/100 G)

  • Anchovies/sardines 193 (inosinate)
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms 150 (guanylate)
  • Pork 122 (inosinate)
  • Beef 107 (inosinate)
  • Dried porcini mushrooms 10 (guanylate)
  • 1
    It's possible that cheddar has more umami as it ages but this isn't the flavor I'm referring to. Parmigiano is a good example of a cheese with a lot of umami. The taste I'm talking about seems unique to a subset of cheeses including cheddar. It may be less true for non-American cheddar, but aged American cheddar has a sort of aggressive flavor. It's hard to describe which is why I asked the question. – Jordan Reiter Jul 21 '18 at 2:55
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    I don't find umami flavors to be sharp or acidic at all. The characteristics the OP is describing are usually associated with the flavor "sour". – moscafj Jul 21 '18 at 9:33
  • Ok gotchya. Understood. – Chefchab Jul 22 '18 at 4:36

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