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Microbes of Cheesy Goodness

Cheeses get their flavors from the microbes that make their homes upon them, and while many of those organisms are apparent from, say, the blue of blue cheese, the more anonymous ones are beginning to be uncovered by researchers, writes Elizabeth Preston at Inkfish.

Researchers from the Institute for Milk Hygiene at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna characterized the microbial communities of Vorarlberger Bergkäse, an Austrian artisanal hard cheese made from raw cow's milk.

The researchers collected seven cheese rind samples — pooled from scrapings of more than two dozen cheese wheels — that they obtained from seven different ripening cellars at three Austrian dairy facilities. Using 16S and 18S rRNA gene sequencing, the team identified 39 bacterial and seven fungal operational taxonomic units, as they report in the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

Each cheese facility, Preston points out, had a different microbial signature. Additionally, that signature varied with the age of the cheese. Younger cheeses, for instance, contained more Actinobacteria or Proteobacteria, especially Halomonas and Brevibacterium aurantiacum, while older cheeses had more Staphyloccocus equorum.

"Clearly the microbial communities are key to flavor production," senior author Stephan Schmitz-Esser tells her. He adds figuring out how these communities to the flavor profile will enable cheese produces to get the taste they want.