All articles written by Benjamin Wolfe
By Megan Biango-Daniels with editing assistance from Megan Martin
Many cheesemakers credit strains of microbes that are specific to their caves with providing terroir, flavors, or appearances that cannot be replicated. This so-called microbial terroir is the unique taste imparted by microbes that make these foods. But what are microbial strains and how do they differ from species? [click to view the full story]
When you buy an aged cheese at the store, you expect it to have a specific appearance. Camembert should be white and fuzzy. Limburger should be orange and sticky. Cheese makers work hard to manage aesthetics, but sometimes unplanned colors or textures cause cheese defects. In the past few years, cheese rinds around the world have started turning an unusual purple color. In this Science Digested, I’ll explain how my lab discovered the microbial cause of this purple rind defect.
Ever wonder what is living in that undulating crust on your favorite blue cheese or clothbound Cheddar? Our new visual guide provides an overview of the microbial diversity of natural rind cheeses. Print it out. Hang it up. Impress your friends with your new cheese microbiology knowledge.
Various attributes of a cheese, including both flavor and appearance, contribute to the final quality of the product. During the production of some cheeses, microbial processes can cause strange quality defects, often with colorful outcomes. Researchers in University College in Cork, Ireland identified the microbial culprit behind a notorious pink cheese defect. In this Science Digested, Adam Shutes from the Boston Cheese Cellar explains what they found.
Next time you buy a piece of cheese with a mottled natural rind, such as a clothbound Cheddar or Tomme de Savoie, take a close look at the rind with a magnifying glass. If you look long enough, you will see tiny pieces of the rind are moving! These specks are microscopic arachnids known as cheese mites. Gophers of the cheese world, these tiny mites can both impart flavors as well as cause headaches for cheese producers.
Have you ever noticed those goat’s milk cheeses with the wrinkly surface at the cheese shop? They look like a fuzzy white brain or a dusty grey coral and they smell like sweet, buttery flatulence. Those aesthetics and aromas come from the growth of the fungus Geotrichum candidum. Using in-depth genomic sequencing, French scientists recently unlocked the evolutionary history of this important cheese microbe and revealed a fungus with an identity crisis.
It’s difficult to connect the dots throughout our complex food system. Although it is rarely demonstrated scientifically, we generally accept that what happens on farms impacts the quality of our food. For microbial foods, the raw materials we use in fermentation can introduce different microbes depending on how those materials were produced. A recent study in Italy of sourdough fermentation demonstrated that organic vs. conventional farming can affect the quality of sourdough bread. This exciting new research highlights the role that microbes play in shaping food quality as it moves along the path from farm to fork.
If you’ve ever spotted yellow fluff on the surface of a cheese rind, you were probably looking at the mold Chrysosporium sulfureum. Considered a typical fungal species on the rinds of many classic French cheeses including Tomme de Savoie and Saint-Nectaire, this cave-loving fungus is widespread, but enigmatic. Here’s a summary of the little that we do know about this cheese fungus.
Food scientists have developed a diverse toolkit to help food producers keep pathogens out of fermented foods, including pasteurization, raw ingredient and end-product testing, and the addition of natural preservatives. Over the past decade, a new technology using viruses that attack pathogenic bacteria (bacteriophages), has emerged on the market as a potential addition to this food safety toolkit. Here we explain the science of using good viruses to kill bad bacteria in fermented foods.
Across the globe, local communities are forming fermentation communities – groups that meet to teach each other techniques and build a sense of community over delicious microbial foods. Over the past five years, a local potter in Boston, Massachusetts, has helped organize and educate a rapidly growing fermentation community. In this guest post, Maria Ordovas, explores how a fermentation culture is being formed in Boston. [click to view the full story]