Photo credit: Interfood

The smell that we perceive from yeast is because microbes ‘talk’ to bacteria. This is an important process in cheese making.

Several of us can be repelled by a Stinking Bishop or a gooey Gorgonzola by its sharp whiff.

Scientists, regardless, have discovered that the reason why that odor is so important – and the importance comes from the fact that it enables microbes ‘talk’ to the bacteria that ripen cheese.

Researchers at Tufts University in the US found out that the bacteria reacts to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) yielded by fungi in the rind and discharged into the air, providing the savory flavours found on cheese boards.

The mixture of bacteria, yeast and fungi is very significant to its flavour, so the experts explain that finding out how to regulate the microbial ecosystem is a breakthrough in the art of cheese-making.

‘Humans have appreciated the diverse aromas of cheeses for hundreds of years, but how these aromas impact the biology of the cheese microbiome had not been studied,’ said Benjamin Wolfe, professor of biology and one of the authors of the study – published in Environmental Microbiology.

Cheese can use these aroma to change their biology.

‘Our latest findings show that cheese microbes can use these aromas to dramatically change their biology and the findings’ importance extends beyond cheese-making to other fields as well.’

As bacteria and fungi thrive on ripening cheeses, they discharge enzymes that break down amino acids to produce compounds that contribute to the flavour and aroma of cheese.

This is the main reason why camembert, stilton and limburger have their signature aroma.

The researchers discovered that VOCs do not just contribute to the flavor and texture of cheese, but also give a way for fungi to communicate with and also ‘feed’ the bacteria in the cheese microbiome.

The bacteria feed on the odour that we perceive. With the aid of VOC’s, the fungi assisting the bacteria to thrive.

‘The bacteria are able to actually eat what we perceive as smells,’ said Casey Cosetta, who co-authored the study.

‘With VOCs, the fungi are really providing a useful assist to the bacteria to help them thrive.’

Cheese expert Steve Parker, author of British Cheese On Toast, cautioned that not everything can be improved in a lab, saying cheesemakers believe the settings in the dairy and the maturing room and the moulds and yeasts in there is what gives a cheese ‘unique characteristics’.


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