Scientists 'break the mold’ by creating new colors of ‘blue cheese’

Experts at the University of Nottingham have discovered how to create different colors of blue cheese

6 Feb 2024
Will Thompson
Editorial Assistant

A team of experts from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham have been able to create a variety of different fungal strains that could be used to make cheese with colors ranging from white to yellow-green to red-brown-pink and light and dark blues after discovering how the classic blue-green veining is created.

The fungus Penicillium roqueforti is used worldwide in the production of blue-veined cheese such as Stilton, Roquefort and Gorgonzola. Its unique blue-green color and flavor comes from pigmented spores formed by fungal growth. Using a combination of bioinformatics, targeted gene deletions and heterologous gene expression, the research team learnt the way in which the blue-green pigment is produced.

The researchers found that a biochemical pathway gradually forms the blue pigments, starting at a white color, which progressively becomes yellow-green, red-brown-pink, dark brown, light blue, and finally dark blue-green. The team were then able to use some classic food safe (non GM) techniques to ‘block’ the pathway at certain points, and create strains with new colors that can be used in cheese production.

Once the team produced the cheese with the new color strains, they used lab diagnostic instruments to see what the flavor might be like. Taste trials with volunteers from across the university found that when people were trying the lighter colored strains they thought they tasted more mild. Whereas they thought the darker strain had a more intense flavor. Similarly, with the more reddish brown and a light green one, people thought they had a fruity tangy element to them – whereas according to the lab instruments they were very similar in flavor. This suggests that people perceive taste not only from what they taste but also from what they see.

The team will now look at working with cheese makers in both Nottinghamshire and Scotland to create new color variants of blue cheese.

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