Our Cultures Trial project has reached its final – and tastiest – stage! The scientific team have made the cultures, the cheesemakers have made the cheeses, and a crack team of experts evaluated the results at a blind tasting last month.
The project is the first of its kind in Australia, and one of only a few similar projects in the world, where cheesemakers are collaborating with scientists to develop cultures made exclusively from the milk of individual farms.
It was the result of a Technology Development Voucher scheme offered by Business Victoria, for businesses (in this case, a group of Victorian cheesemakers) to partner with a technology provider (in this case, DIAL) to do things such as develop prototypes for commercial feasibility, and access emerging technologies to improve products.
Three main cheesemakers from Victoria - Holy Goat, l'Artisan Cheese and Prom Country Cheese - provided fresh, raw milk in October 2014. These producers were selected because they all source milk from their own (or a neighbouring single) herd, from goats, cows and sheep, respectively. Spring milk was provided as it is microbiologically richer than milk produced in other seasons.
Each participating cheesemaker identified a partner cheesemaker in another state, who also produces cheese made from the same milk type. Holy Goat partnered with Nimbin Valley Dairy in NSW, l’Artisan Cheese partnered with Pyengana Dairy in Tasmania, and Prom Country Cheese partnered with Pecora Dairy in NSW. The partner cheesemakers would all be involved in the cheesemaking stage of the project.
What the scientists did
The Cheese & Cultured Products team at DIAL (Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd), lead by Dr Ian Powell, examined the microbes present in the raw milk, and identified which species were present. They then selected individual species that were considered to be safe and that were likely to produce complexity in the resulting cheeses. The chosen microbes were isolated and grown in the lab, then re-assembled into culture blends from each milk source, resulting in prototype cultures that could be used by the cheesemakers.
What the cheesemakers did
Over the past few months, the participating ASCA cheesemakers have been experimenting with the new cultures by producing multiple batches of the same cheese, made with different cultures. Each cheesemaker was required to produce a “control” batch of cheese, made using their normal starter cultures and according to their normal recipe. They then made experimental batches using either the “indigenous” cultures from their own milk type, or the “superblend” of cultures from all three milk types, utilised as “adjunct cultures”. Adjunct cultures are used in addition to normal acidifying starter cultures, to enhance the flavours, textures and other characteristics of cheeses.
A team of experts conducted a blind tasting of around 36 cheeses on Wednesday 28th October, in Melbourne. The tasting panel worked in pairs to systematically evaluate different batches of each cheese, to determine the differences - if any - between them. All of the cheeses were coded and presented as if for judging in a cheese show (thanks to incredible work by ASCA Executive Officer, Louise Wellington, and ASCA Secretary, Alison Lansley) so the panel members didn't know which adjunct cultures had been used, or if they were just the normal cheeses. At the end of the blind tasting, the details were revealed, with some fascinating - and surprising - results.
Left: Tasting panel members Olivia Sutton, Victor Persinette, Miranda Sharp, Russell Smith & Sonia Cousins discussing their findings; Right: Tasting panel members Richard Cornish and Sonia Cousins sharing the results with the rest of the group.
For each cheese, multiple batches were presented - 1 made as a control, 1 made with "indigenous" cultures from that milk type (sheep, cow or goat), and 1 made with a "superblend" of cultures from all three milk types. The following cheeses were chosen as the best examples from each of the three main participating cheesemakers, displaying distinct differences between each batch, depending on the cultures used:
Left: Holy Goat "Nectar Tomme" (semi-hard goat's milk); Middle: l'Artisan "Mountain Man" (Reblochon-style, cow's milk); Right: Prom Country "Venus Blue" (sheep's milk)
HOLY GOAT "NECTAR TOMME"
The control batch was a few weeks older than the other two, which were both made within a week of each other. This probably explains why the tasting panel identified the control batch as the strongest, and their least favourite. The batch made with indigenous goat milk cultures emerged as the clear favourite, with the most flavour complexity and best representation of the style.
L'ARTISAN "MOUNTAIN MAN"
Three batches were presented. The tasting panel found a stand-out cheese in the batch made with the superblend cultures - they commented that it was the strongest, most complex and well-balanced. They found that the control batch was the least flavoursome and mildest, despite being 2 weeks older than the other two batches. All of the cheeses had consistent textures and were great representations of the style.
PROM COUNTRY "VENUS BLUE"
All were well-balanced and complex, and all were distinctly different. Interestingly, the tasting panel picked the control batch as the most complex, but also as the most subtle. The batches made with the indigenous sheep and superblend cultures had amplified flavours that masked some of the subtleties present in the regular batch of cheese. They were all, however, very good cheeses that were very well made.
What happens next?
The results from the blind tasting need to be analysed in more detail, to determine whether the various cultures resulted in overall improved cheese flavour, and whether location-specific flavours were identified. ASCA will also review the cost, technical feasibility and overall benefits of the trial. Once this is known, we can decide whether it is worth considering routine production of location-specific cultures for use by our artisan cheesemakers.
Are the cheeses available for sale?
As this was a trial, the cheeses are not yet available for commercial sale. But there will be an opportunity to taste some of the cheeses at a public event in Melbourne on Wednesday 25 November 2015. Click on the link below for more details and to purchase tickets.
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