FIRM Research

The Food Institutional Research Measure (FIRM) is administered by the Department of Agriculture and Food under the National Development Plan with the aim of supporting research, development and innovation in the Irish food industry. FIRM provides a strategic framework for institutional research in generic technologies aimed at supporting innovation and product development in the Irish food industry. It provides funding for "public good" research that is neither commissioned nor carried out in-house by individual firms. The results of the research are widely disseminated for the benefit of the food industry by the individual research teams and by RELAY, the national dissemination service charged with communicating the results of publicly funded food research to the Irish food industry. The following project is supported under the FIRM programme:

Novel strategies for optimization of the Cheddar cheese manufacturing process

Despite considerable research, it is still not possible to guarantee premium quality Cheddar cheese. In Ireland, 139,000 tonnes of cheese is made per annum, mostly Cheddar, from a pool of milk drawn from a small geographical area using starters and coagulants obtained from a limited number of commercial sources and often with identical technology. However, intra- and inter-factory variations in quality beset cheesemakers and have defied their best attempts to produce consistently premium-grade Cheddar. While cheesemakers pay close attention to pH, composition, ionic strength (NaCl) and temperature; it is possible that equally close attention to physicochemical and biochemical parameters which have to date received little attention, including oxidation-reduction potential, micro-scale distribution of enzymes, water activity, levels of residual lactose/lactate, and galactose (in cheeses made with starter systems containing Streptococcus thermophilus), may allow much more precise control of cheese quality and avoid specific defects. The parameters studied in this project could easily be measured and/or implemented in industry and could form part of future strategies for optimization of the Cheddar cheesemaking process and reducing variation in quality. Routine determination of some of these parameters will lead to the generation of new sets of quality parameters giving a competitive advantage to the Irish Cheddar cheese industry.

Existing research on Cheddar cheese quality has concentrated on a very limited number of attributes and industrial quality strategies typically focus on pH, moisture, fat-in-dry-matter salt-in-moisture and moisture-in-non-fat-substances, the importance of which were established by research in New Zealand up to nearly four decades ago. This project will focus on other area of cheese including its oxidation-reduction (redox) potential, the fate of galactose liberated by Gal- components of the starter, water activity and its influence on microbial growth and physiology and activity of ripening and strategies for greater control and standardization of lactose (and hence lactic acid)-to-buffering, and galactose/lactate content of Cheddar.

The partners in this FIRM-funded project are University College Cork (Prof PLH McSweeney, coordinator), Teagasc, Moorepark (Dr T Beresford, Dr TP Guinee) and University of Limerick (Dr MG Wilkinson).