Scientists are putting the East Midlands’ famous blue cheeses under the microscope in a research project that aims to explain exactly what gives the cheeses their distinctive taste, texture and smell.
The Food and Drink iNet is supporting research being carried out by The University of Northampton in conjunction with The University of Nottingham to delve into the microbiology of blue cheese production.
The researchers hope to unravel the mystery of exactly how the microorganisms in blue cheese work…leading to greater quality, consistency and fewer defects in production.
The project could ultimately help East Midlands’ blue cheeses to take a larger slice of the global blue cheese market by making regional cheese producers more competitive.
The research project is one of five Collaborative Research and Development grants worth a total of more than £245,000 announced by the Food and Drink iNet, which co-ordinates innovation support for businesses, universities and individuals working in the food and drink sector in the East Midlands.
Funded by East Midlands Development Agency (emda) and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Food and Drink iNet is one of four regional iNets that has developed an effective network to link academic and private sector expertise and knowledge with local food and drink business innovation needs.
“This is an exciting research project between The University of Northampton and The University of Nottingham, with far-reaching potential for one of the East Midlands’ most famous products and exports,” said Food and Drink iNet interim director Richard Worrall.
“We don’t really know exactly how the various microorganisms in blue cheeses are interacting and working, so if we can help to provide a clearer picture about their role in blue cheese production it will help cheese producers in a number of different ways, and ultimately make them more competitive.
“The Food and Drink iNet Collaborative Research and Development support is designed to provide help for innovative research schemes that will benefit the food and drink sector in the future, and this fits the bill perfectly.”
The team, which also includes Stichelton Dairy Ltd, based on the Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire, has been awarded almost £49,000 towards the cost of the research project of just over £79,000.
The research is being run by Dr Kostas Gkatzionis, a researcher in the School of Health at The University of Northampton, in conjunction with his colleague Prof Carol Phillips, and Prof Christine Dodd and Dr Robert Linforth from The University of Nottingham. Dr Kostas Gkatzionis studied the microflora of Stilton for his PhD. Now this research is being widened to look at the role played by secondary flora – microorganisms that have not been added or controlled by the producer but which appear in the cheese during production.
This secondary flora has a significant impact on the properties of the final product in both a positive way by contributing to the flavour of the cheese, but also in a negative way by producing bitter smells and poor formation of the blue veins.
By discovering exactly how this secondary flora works, researchers hope that blue cheese producers will be able not only to improve current varieties of cheese but also that this will pave the way to the development of new cheeses.
“We are very pleased to receive this grant from the Food and Drink iNet for our research, which will help us to understand in more detail the microbiological issues that concern the production of cheeses, and as a result should bring a range of benefits to the blue cheese industry of the East Midlands, and also the cheese industry more generally,” said Dr Gkatzionis.
The research findings will be shared with cheese producers across the UK.
The Food and Drink iNet aims to build on the tradition of innovation in the food and drink industry in the region by helping to create opportunities to develop knowledge and skills, and to help research, develop and implement new products, markets, services and processes. It is managed by a consortium, led by the Food and Drink Forum and including Food Processing Faraday, Nottingham Trent University, the University of Lincoln, and the University of Nottingham. It is based at Southglade Food Park, Nottingham, with advisors covering the East Midlands region.