Researchers help eliminate guesses in cheese making by using science to better predict and control the ripening process.
Making cheese sheets so often to chance that they can ripen batch for months or even years before the problem is discovered, which may send a precious batch of cheddar to be sold cheaply as an ingredient for processed cheese.
It’s part of the reason cheese is so complicated and expensive to make – the manufacturer can invest a lot of time and money into what it believes to be a first-class batch, only to discover it is failing when it is too late to fix it.
But new research from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia allows for quality checks early and more precisely in the process, giving manufacturers a better chance of interacting with issues related to the ripening process.
Dr. Ruya Afshari said the team devised a method for detecting biomarkers of cheese – or fingerprints – to reveal unique combinations of things such as chemicals and milk-derived ingredients that make up the perfect mass.
“Once we know the chemical characteristics of a successful cheese, we can compare it to the new batches once 30 days have passed since the aging process,” she said.
“It’s like a cheese pregnancy screening test – we analyze biological data early in development to see if there are any red marks.
“This could be done in conjunction with traditional analyzes such as taste to highlight potential problems in the future.”
The team looked at different types of commercial cheddar cheese in Australia and applied multomics – a type of biological analysis commonly used in human medicine to detect disease early.
Researchers studied the biological composition of different brands and grades of cheese and worked with data experts to interpret and compare results for known batches.
“Once we knew the unique properties of ready-made cheese, we compared them to the mature batches and found the compounds that distinguish the best cheeses,” said Afshari.
With larger datasets, it will be possible for these technologies to tell manufacturers whether their set will age properly, because they can check to see if the major compounds developed early in the maturation process or just as importantly as the bad ones did not. Like owning a crystal ball.
What’s more, the practice of grading cheese quality and maturity will no longer need to be left to the intrinsic human senses.
Afshari said that incorporating multi-omics analysis into cheese testing gives professional cheese makers more tools to accurately assess quality.
Chemical fingerprints of cheese can be compared to those of an ideal product, along with traditional grading methods.
“Now we can define different types and grades of cheese with more accuracy than with a taste test.”
Researchers have published three recent studies that demonstrate how interpreting the biological properties of cheese can aid processing and grading.
In separate studies, they used multiple omics analyzes to differentiate cheddar cheese based on age and brand, and compare cheeses of varying quality and artisan and artisanal cheddar on the basis of type and brand.
From cheese to wine
The method pioneered by the RMIT team is scalable and can be used with further development to test any food or beverage product, including wine, for quality and originality.
This is important, because fake wine is a multi-billion dollar problem plaguing the industry.
The chief supervisor of this research project, Professor Harsharn Gill, said the days of counterfeit food and beverage products can be numbered as biological analysis technology becomes commercially available.
“The fingerprints of some products are so unique and detailed that we can narrow the sample down to its origin,” he said.
Evidence such as the type of grape used in the fermentation process can be answered by studying the wine and comparing the results with a reliable sample.
“We are still far from having affordable and therefore widely accessible technology but we are open to working with the industry using facilities at the RMIT Center for Food Research and Innovation.”
Led by Jill, RMIT researchers – including Professor Mark Osborne, Dr. Daniel Dias and Dr. Christopher Bellridge – continue to develop in the field, including looking for new ways to interpret millions of data points extracted from food samples.
“As new tools become available, we will have more power to examine and interpret chemical data from food from many different angles, leading to more sustainable manufacturing,” said Gill.
“Identification of microbes and metabolites along with an integrative analysis to distinguish cheese with different maturity ages” is published in Frontiers in Microbiology
(DOI: 10.3389 / fmicb.2020.592060).
“Biomarkers associated with cheese quality detected through OMEC integrated analysis” are published in Food watch
(DOI: 10.1016 / j.foodcont.2020.107752).
“New Insights on the Relationships between Microbes and Metabolism in Cheddar Cheese, Revealed through Integrative Analysis of Multileum Data” was published in Scientific Reports
(DOI: 10.1038 / s41598-020-59617-9).
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