Cheese maturation and cutability
How much energy are you wasting keeping cheese in stock that just won’t make the grade?
Through our unique collaboration between the food sciences department at the University of Nottingham and South Caernarfon Creameries, we are using research to create a model that will help you answer this question.
So instead of guessing what to stock and what to sell, see how you could work with SI and benefit from a world first technology and research collaboration, funded by Innovate UK*, for the benefit of the whole cheese industry.
Read on to find out more about the research and how it could help your business.
Even as the food industry has embraced technology to control and standardise their production processes, cheese making retains more than a few reminders of its unpredictable origins as a craft. Every cheese recipe that a site produces will be slightly different, and while this can be great for enthusiasts, it can sometimes prove problematic for the manufacturers.
However, a partnership between SI, South Caernarfon Creameries and researchers at the University of Nottingham, may be able to provide a solution that limits wasted energy and time, without changing the product itself.
Unpredictability is a natural consequence of the cheese production process, but maturation can require the product to be held in storage for up to 18 months as its chemistry changes. Keeping stock in this way comes at a considerable cost in terms of both inventory value and storage, especially as the cheese needs to be kept chilled throughout. Currently, cheddar producers will typically overstock in the knowledge that only a proportion of their total inventory will actually meet the required maturation. Out of those that do mature, only some will have the optimum texture and consistency to provide the best yield when cut for retail pack.
Cheese making is unlikely to ever become precise enough to ensure that every cheese produced matures in the exact same way, so instead, SI decided to see if there was a way to predict and model how the products will react before placing it in storage.
In this unique research collaboration project, the company teamed up with South Caernarfon Creameries, who have been providing both samples and several decades of cheese making experience, together with the experts at the University of Nottingham’s Food Sciences department.
With the aid of a grant from the Government’s Innovate UK initiative, the project has been studying mature cheeses in minute detail, to find out exactly what parameters indicating cheese maturation and cutability could be measured and how they might be influenced by the cheese make process.
“Using a texture analysis machine, you can measure how crumbly the cheese is, how elastic it is, and other physical properties,” explained Bill MacNaughtan, Food Sciences Laboratory Manager at Nottingham. “As well as that, we’ve been taking spectroscopic measurements that can give an idea of the chemical makeup of the cheese, and thermal measurements that let us determine its melting point.”
“We’ve been making a note of all these measurements at different points along the maturation process and, in the longer term, hope that when we combine it, we will be able to produce a very reliable model of cheese maturation and cutability. This could then allow SI to predict how a batch of cheese will develop, helping its customers to prevent wastage and decide which cheeses to keep and sell. For example, if producers could predict how certain parameters will change, they could minimise energy and storage costs for a cheese that won’t ever develop into a mature vintage product, and this could result in significant cost savings.”
Making use of data
SI’s unique cheese processing technology already tracks a huge amount of data about each batch of cheese, from the raw ingredients right through to the finished product. Now, the plan is to integrate any information uncovered by the researchers at Nottingham, in the hopes of creating a package that allows manufacturers to better predict maturation and cutability.
“Through tighter data capture and detailed information, the research team has already unearthed ways to provide benefit and add value to the product. When data is compiled over the course of weeks and months, it could reveal that many manufacturers aren’t being as consistent in their processes as they believe themselves to be; small changes over time can quickly add up,” explained Rob Stephens, SI’s CEO.
“If, because of this collaborative project, we unearth a way to predict which cheeses will mature, it will be a major breakthrough for the industry. This predictive model would also complement our unique software that can already deliver significant benefits to cheese makers and processors. Our unique electronic version of the traditional cheese make sheet captures live data from the processing equipment used to create each batch. Using this software, we can define exactly how the cheese make was delivered, pinpointing things like changes in temperature. So, when one good batch is compared to a less valuable one, we can, over time gather information that will help to pinpoint where the make process influenced the maturation process.”
With this information at their fingertips, cheese makers can look to prevent those small changes in the cheese make that will make a big difference to the end result. And through our ongoing research and development, SI can help to make the cheese industry more sustainable, through a reduction in both energy and unnecessary storage costs.