August 18, 2009 / 4:46 AM / 10 years ago

Researchers study why some cheese melts, others crumble

MELBOURNE (Reuters Life!) - Why is Parmesan hard and Cheddar crumbly? An Australian researcher is on a quest to find out why different types of cheese feel different, even though they’re made from similar raw materials.

Pieces of French Roquefort blue cheese are displayed in a shop in Paris January 16, 2009. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Dr. Sally Gras, from the University of Melbourne’s Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department, will head to Europe next year to study the texture of cheese to help manufacturers in Australia, one of the world’s biggest exporter of dairy products.

“Texture is important to how we taste cheese, and its mouth feel, as well as how it crumbles and how it melts,” Gras told Reuters. “But this is one thing that manufacturers say is very difficult to control.”

“Hopefully, our research will help manufacturers increase their yield so that they can create a consistent product with an optimal texture.”

Australian cheese sales within the country as well as exports are worth some A$2.4 billion ($2 billion) a year.

Last year, Australia produced 359,000 metric tons of cheese, mainly Cheddar.

Gras’ research will focus on how raw ingredients such as milk proteins, fat globules and starter bacteria are transformed to make cheese and how these ingredients, together with the cheese making process, determines cheese texture.

Gras, a self-confessed cheese lover who says she eats more than the average 12 kg (26.5 lb) a year, is set to go to Ireland, home of a major European cheese research facility, as well as France after being awarded a fellowship.

Her research is part of a larger project that is partly funded by Australia’s dairy industry.

“There is a lot we don’t know about the intermediate stages of cheese making,” Gras said.

“Our research, which will help manufacturers predict and control cheese texture, is likely to have a big impact on cheese manufacturing and the dairy industry.”

($1=1.214 Australian Dollar)

Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Belinda Goldsmith

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