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Blue cheese now comes in more colors than just blue

A team of scientists has unlocked the secret to diversifying the color spectrum of blue cheese. Traditionally characterized by its distinctive blue-green veins, blue cheese is set to undergo a transformation that could redefine our cheese boards.

The team, led by Dr. Paul Dyer, Professor of Fungal Biology at the University of Nottingham, embarked on this journey by exploring the production mechanisms behind the blue-green pigmentation unique to blue-veined cheeses like Stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola.

Science of color: Decoding the pigments of blue cheese

This pigmentation, a result of the fungus Penicillium roqueforti, is pivotal in lending the cheese its unique flavor and appearance.

Through an innovative blend of bioinformatics, targeted gene deletions, and heterologous gene expression, the researchers have demystified the pigment production process.

Dr. Dyer and his team discovered that the pigmentation follows a biochemical pathway that evolves from white to various hues, including yellow-green, red-brown-pink, dark brown, and shades of blue, culminating in the traditional dark blue-green.

By employing safe, non-GM food production techniques to interrupt this pathway at specific stages, they successfully developed fungal strains capable of producing a range of new colors in cheese.

“We’ve been delving into the world of cheese fungi for over a decade,” Dr. Dyer shared. “Our goal was to see if we could innovate beyond the traditional blue-green hues to include new flavors and appearances.”

The team’s approach was to stimulate sexual reproduction within the fungus, leading to a variety of strains that not only presented novel colors but also introduced new, mild to intense flavor profiles.

Taste perception: How color influences blue cheese flavor

Upon crafting cheese with these innovative strains, the team conducted taste tests to assess potential flavor variations.

“We found that the taste was very similar to the original blue strains from which they were derived,” said Dr Dyer. “There were subtle differences but not very much.

However, during taste trials with university volunteers, perceptions differed significantly. Participants reported milder tastes in lighter-colored cheeses and more intense flavors in darker variants.

Cheeses with reddish-brown and light green hues were noted for their fruity, tangy elements, showcasing how visual cues can influence taste perception.

Bringing their innovations to the table

With this discovery, the team, including lead postgraduate student Matt Cleere, plans to collaborate with cheese producers in Nottinghamshire and Scotland to introduce these colorful variants to the market.

Moreover, the formation of Myconeos, a university spin-out company, aims to commercialize these new strains.

Dr. Dyer concluded, “Personally, I think it will give people a really satisfying sensorial feeling eating these new cheeses and hopefully might attract some new people into the market.”

A new era for cheese lovers

In summary, this research has paved the way for a vibrant new spectrum of blue cheese, revolutionizing the traditional culinary landscape.

Led by Dr. Paul Dyer and his team, this innovation challenges the conventional appearance and flavor profiles of blue-veined cheeses while underscoring the intricate relationship between taste perception and visual cues.

By creating a variety of cheese colors ranging from white to dark blues, and introducing mild to intense and fruity flavors, the team has expanded the gastronomic possibilities of cheese.

This endeavor promises to enrich the sensory experience of cheese enthusiasts and aims to attract a broader audience to the art of cheese tasting.

With the establishment of Myconeos and collaborations with cheese makers, the future of blue cheese looks both colorful and promising, marking a significant leap forward in food science and culinary arts.

The findings of the study are published in the journal NPJ Science of Food.


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