Mr Reeve says cheese is matured for up 18 months and graded every three months. (Supplied: Michael Reeve)
Queensland scientists are trialling the use of new bacteria in cheese to try to speed up production and create new flavour combinations.
Some cheeses can take up to two years to mature, using a significant amount of storage and energy.
University of Queensland Associate Professor Mark Turner said applying additional bacteria to the fermentation process could cut that time down to as little as six months and potentially save the industry $10 million a year.
“These bacteria produce flavour chemicals which can potentially speed up the process of ripening cheese,” he said.
“Cheese is normally made with a starter culture, and that produces the acid in the milk, which causes the cheese to coagulate, so the idea is you would add these other bacteria, which are harmless, and naturally occurring in cheese.”
Australia produces about $2.7 billion worth of cheese each year, with $900 million worth of that being exported.
Large processors have welcomed the advancement.
Warrnambool Cheese spokesman Clinton Hill said the company was impressed with the new research technology.
“Any outcomes that can reduce costs will be beneficial to the industry,” he said.
Applying additional bacteria to the fermentation process could cut time down to as little as six months. (ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)
Cheese cultures expert Dr Ian Powell said it could lead to better cheese at a lower cost.
“Bacteria play a vitally important role in the development of flavour during maturation of many cheese varieties,” Dr Powell said.
“Carefully-selected bacterial cultures can enhance cheese flavour, accelerate flavour development, or help to create new cheese varieties with different flavour characteristics.”
Dr Powell said the idea had been around for many years, but making it work would not be easy.
“Making batch after batch of trial cheeses to evaluate different cultures and blends of cultures is expensive and a lot of work,” he said.
“In reality, cheesemakers either don’t do it, or they don’t look beyond the relatively small number of cultures that are already commercially available and too many cheeses end up tasting much the same.”
Careful consideration needed for new cheese labelling
Independent cheesemakers are intrigued, but said it would depend on the final product and how it was marketed.
Some fear it would compromise the true meaning of vintage.
Michael Reeve has been a traditional cheesemaker for 20 years — first in Britain and now at Queensland’s Tamborine Mountain.
He said the cheese was matured for up 18 months and was graded every three months for texture and taste.
“It’s made by hand — it’s not done with a push of the button — it’s actually a three-day process for us, the only thing we do now that we didn’t do in the old days is pasteurise,” Mr Reeve said.
He admitted the process was costly.
“You have to have 12 degrees [Celsius], 90 per cent humidity, so you’ve got to keep an eye on it and it costs money for refrigeration,” he said.
“I just hope that when they do it, it’s explained and they don’t put vintage on a cheese that’s six months old.”
Dr Turner agreed there would need to be careful consideration about how the new cheese was labelled and promoted.
“I’m a great fan of artisan cheese produced with traditional methods,” Dr Turner said.
“But artisan products are a relatively small part of the market, and we are expecting this new development will appeal to larger producers who cater for domestic and export market.”
The research is being run through the Australian Research Council’s Dairy Innovation Research Hub, and is two years away from completion.