Blue cheese under scrutiny

Posted on 1 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Scientists in the East Midlands are set to begin research into the microbiology of the region’s famous blue cheese with the hope of helping companies there get a greater share of the global market.

Annual sales of blue cheese made in the UK are now worth £33m.

The collaborative team from the University of Northampton and the University Nottingham hope that by building an understanding of the behaviours of the micro organisms that form during the making of the cheese they can find ways to improve quality and consistency and inspire fewer defects in production. It is also hoped new cheeses could be developed as a result of the research.

The research is focused on the secondary flora of microorganisms in cheese – those are not added by the producer but which occur naturally from the production process. These can give the cheese a fuller taste but can also cause unwelcome smells and cause the blue veins in cheese to form badly.

The research is being part funded with a £49,000 grant from the Food and Drink iNet – an industry focused subset of the East Midlands Development Agency which sources additional funding through the European Regional Development Fund.

Food and Drink iNet interim director Richard Worrall said:
“We don’t really know exactly how the various microorganisms in blue cheeses are interacting and working, so if we can help to provide a clearer picture about their role in blue cheese production it will help cheese producers in a number of different ways, and ultimately make them more competitive.

“The Food and Drink iNet Collaborative Research and Development support is designed to provide help for innovative research schemes that will benefit the food and drink sector in the future, and this fits the bill perfectly.”
The team, which also includes blue cheese expert Stichelton Dairy, based in Nottingham, is headed up by Dr Kostas Gkatzionis, a researcher in the School of Health at The University of Northampton.

He said: “We are very pleased to receive this grant from the Food and Drink iNet for our research, which will help us to understand in more detail the microbiological issues that concern the production of cheeses, and as a result should bring a range of benefits to the blue cheese industry of the East Midlands, and also the cheese industry more generally.”

The total cost of the research project is £79,000. The findings will be made available to all UK companies.
With a 21.3 per cent rise to £464.3m, the dairy industry was Britain’s fastest growing food exports sector in the first half of 2010. A 15.2 per cent increase in cheese exports, driven largely by cheddar and blue cheeses, was the biggest contributor to this success, according to research by the Food and Drink Federation.

Dr Kostas Gkatzionis
Dr Kostas Gkatzionis begins his examination of blue cheese