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Smear-ripened sheep milk cheeses have potential.

Brick and limburger are two popular examples of smear-ripened cheeses made from cow's milk. A smear-ripened cheese is one whose surface is smeared with a bacterial broth during the ripening period. When you eat a smear-ripened cheese, the edges near the rind usually taste somewhat moldy, though nothing as pungent as a veined cheese.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin wanted to see if other milks could be used to make a smear-ripened cheese after several cheesemakers told them of problems they encountered trying to produce a smear-ripened sheep milk cheese. The cheesemakers reported that it was difficult to get the smear organisms to grow on the surface of sheep milk cheese as they tried to produce cheese with the desired flavor and aroma of a typical smear-ripened cow's milk cheese.

It appears that there is a real potential for smear-ripened sheep milk cheeses, but the aging patterns of those cheeses will be uniquely different than smear-ripened cow's milk cheeses. The scientists produced traditional smear-ripened brick cheeses from both cow's milk and sheep milk to determine how a sheep milk cheese would compare to a cow's milk cheese in a traditional smear-ripening process. They found that sheep milk components may not have any significant inhibitory effect on the potential growth of smear-ripening organisms on smear-ripened brick cheese.

The growth of yeasts, salt-tolerant bacteria and Brevibacterium linens were comparable on cow and sheep milk throughout the aging of brick cheeses processed under equivalent environments. Previous reports of difficulty growing B. linens on sheep milk cheeses may have been a result of unfavorable environmental growth conditions.

It is important to use some lactate and raise the surface pH to more than 6.0 before B. linens will start to grow and produce some of the typical pungent, sulfury flavors of smear-ripened cheeses. Other researchers have reported that when relative humidity was at 85%, yeast growth was inhibited due to a limitation of carbonyl substrate diffusion. Consequently, cheese deacidification did not take place, and the Brevibacterium could not grow.

Even though the Wisconsin scientists had comparable growth of smear organisms on the surface of both cheeses, the ripening pattern and flavor development of the brick cheeses were not equivalent due to the differences in the casein composition of the milks. Since sheep milk contains a higher proportion of [alpha]s1 casein, the body of the cheese will be firmer and body breakdown will be slower than comparable cow's milk cheeses. The development of flavors in smear-ripened sheep milk cheeses may also be slower, but over-ripening may be less of a problem than with cow's milk cheeses.

Further information. William Wendorff, Department of Food Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 201E Babcock Hall, 1605 Linden Dr., Madison, WI 53706; phone: 608-263-2015; fax: 608-262-6872; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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