Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited

Title: Can we predict how cheese matures?

Industry Partner: Fonterra Co-operative Group Limited

Project Description:

The use of NIR instruments has allowed Fonterra, and many other companies, to rapidly analyse cheeses, so as they come off the production line we are able to ascertain the gross composition (e.g. fat, protein, moisture). Laboratory testing then further verifies this data allowing us to have a complete picture of the current state of cheese when freshly made. Strict storage conditions are then implemented with temperature, size of block and pallet configuration all known factors.

International standards say that an extra-hard cheese has to have percentage moisture on a fat-free basis of less than 51%. They also say that to be called Cheddar the cheese must contain a minimum of  22% milk fat in the dry matter, so ensuring that cheese meets the compositional requirements of a specification are relatively straight forward. However there are other customer specific requirements, such as achieving the desired flavour and texture, which continue to make the process of cheese making somewhat subjective.  The properties continue to change throughout the shelf life of the cheese as enzymes, chemical and microbiological activities cause changes in the chemical composition and microstructure of the cheese.

So, is there a way that we can predict how a cheese will ripen over months if we know the composition of it at manufacture?

In this project we consider the development of models that allows us to predict how the change in the structure of cheese over time impacts on the measurements that are accessible to the NIR instruments, given certain constraints (e.g. storage temperature and size of cheese block).

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