'Pregnancy test' for cheese could help take guesswork out of ripening process

Researchers focused on cheddar cheese.
Researchers focused on cheddar cheese. Photo credit: Getty

New research from scientists in Australia could help take some of the guesswork out of cheesemaking, allowing producers to check the quality of a batch much earlier in the ripening process. 

A team from RMIT University in Melbourne found a way of revealing the cheese's "fingerprints" - or biomarkers - around a month after the ageing process has begun, something that could alert cheesemakers to any "red flags" before they spend months or years proceeding to ripen their product to perfection.

The result is less risk for cheesemakers, who will have more time to react to any issues within the maturation process. 

Dr Roya Afshari, who was part of the research team, said the cheese's biomarkers revealed unique combinations of aspects like chemicals and milk-derived components that make up the perfect block.

"Once we know the chemical profile of a successful cheese, we can compare it to new batches as soon as 30 days into the ageing process," she said.

"It's like a pregnancy screening test for cheese – we analyse the biological data early in the development to see if there are any red flags.

"This could be done alongside traditional analyses like tasting to highlight future potential problems."

The study focused on cheddar cheese, with researchers looking at the biological make-up of different brands and grades of the cheese in Australia. They also worked with data experts to interpret and compare the results of known batches.

"Once we knew the unique properties of a finished cheese, we compared them to ripening batches and worked out which compounds distinguished the best cheeses," Afshari said.

Researchers said with larger data sets the technique will let producers see if key compounds have - or haven't - developed early on in the ripening process, allowing them to know if their batch will age properly.

"Cheese chemical fingerprints can be compared against those found in the perfect product, along with traditional grading methods," Afshari said.

"Now we can identify different types and grades of cheese more accurately than a taste test."