If you thought playing music on cheese or digging up 2,600-year-old halloumi was as wild as dairy-based research, we’ve got the research for you. Scientists from the University of Nottingham have – in their own words – ‘broken the mold’ by discovering a way to make blue cheese in a whole new range of colours.
Blue cheese is a bit of an acquired taste. On the one hand, you have people who slather their salads in the stuff and put it in everything from soup, to pies, to macaroni and cheese; on the other hand, there are those among us who cautiously choose around the Roquefort in favor of the white Cheddar or Brie. But what makes blue cheese so blue?
The answer is fungi, specifically a species called Penicillium roqueforti. It is used in the manufacture of many blue-veined cheeses – the namesake Roquefort, but also other well-known varieties such as Stilton and Gorgonzola. As the fungus grows, it produces spores that contain a blue-green pigment.
For years we all just accepted that cheese produced this way will be blue. But Dr. Paul Dyer and the team dared to dream of a different, more colorful future.
“We have been interested in cheese molds for more than 10 years and when you develop mold-ripened cheeses, you traditionally get blue cheeses like Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola, which use solid mold species that are blue-green in color. We wanted to see if we could develop new strains with new flavors and appearance,” said Dr. Dyer, professor of fungal biology, in a statement to IFLScience.
“The way we did that was to induce sexual reproduction in the fungus, so for the first time we were able to generate a wide range of strains with new flavors, including attractive new mild and intense flavors. We then created new color versions of some of these new species.”
The researchers began by using bioinformatics and genetic analysis to pinpoint the biochemical pathway that gradually forms the blue pigment P. roqueforti. The pigment actually starts out white and goes through shades of yellow-green, reddish-brown-pink, dark brown, and light blue before ending at the classic shade we’ve all seen on our holiday cheese board.
By mutating genes within this pathway using a food-safe technique, they were able to produce different color variants that they could use for making cheese, after checking that there were no unintended effects that could compromise safety, such as a increase in the production of mold toxins. .
The new cheeses certainly add some aesthetic flair to your charcuterie board, but what about the taste? When the team tested the cheeses using diagnostic instruments in the laboratory, “we found that the taste was very similar to the original blue varieties from which they were derived,” explained Dr. Dyer out.
But when the cheeses were unleashed on the unsuspecting students and staff of the University of Nottingham, it was a slightly different story.
“The interesting thing was that once we started making some cheese, we did some taste trials with volunteers from across the university, and we found that when people tried the lighter types, they thought they tasted milder. While they thought that the dark type had a more intense taste. Similarly, the more reddish-brown and light green variants had people thinking they had a fruity, spicy element – when, according to the lab instruments, they were very similar in taste. This shows that people perceive taste not only based on what they taste, but also based on what they see.”
If you’re eager to get your hands on rainbow cheese, you might be able to do so in the near future. The researchers are working with a university spin-out company called Myconeos, which is already trying to make the dream of bringing multi-colored cheese to market a reality.
Dr. Dyer even tentatively suggested that the makeover might convince some blue cheese newcomers to turn to the dark side: “Personally, I think it will give people a very satisfying sensory feeling when eating these new cheeses and hopefully which will attract new people to the market. ”
The study has been published in the journal NPJ Science of Food.