What makes Västerbotten cheese taste unique?

Thomas Eliasson in the cheese warehouse at the dairy in Burträsk.
Thomas Eliasson in the cheese warehouse at the dairy in Burträsk.

Västerbotten cheese is famous for its unique taste. But why does it taste the way it does? Could it be due to the feed that the cows consume - and perhaps even the bacteria naturally present in their food? This is what Thomas Eliasson, an industrial doctoral student at SLU, is investigating.

Burträsk 7 juni 2023 10:49

Thomas Eliasson is in the final year of a five-year research project. He has a multitude of samples to analyze. Hopefully, the answers to questions about the cheese's taste will be revealed, reports VK.

– We have seen in previous research that for cheese to be of high quality, there must also be a good microbial flora, but we don't really know how it ends up there. How does it get into the milk and eventually into the cheese? Eliasson explains.

For the past decade, there has been an idea that it starts in the fields, with different lactic acid bacteria present in plants and various types of silage that cows consume.

Thomas Eliasson is currently analyzing the data from the samples collected of the feed, barn environment, milk, and cheese during the storage period.

In 2020, a total of 800 tons of forage were cultivated, harvested, and preserved at Röbäcksdalen for the research project.

– Our aim was to create silage with diverse microbial flora by employing different ensiling techniques commonly used in modern agriculture, explains Eliasson.

In 2021, the cows were initially fed one type of silage for three weeks while being milked. This process was then repeated with another type of silage, incorporating a different microbial flora. Subsequently, a third type of silage was introduced, and so forth, in a cyclical manner.

Why does Västerbotten cheese taste the way it does? Soon we may have the answer. Archive image.

The research project proceeded by incorporating the milk from the various periods into the production of Västerbottensost cheese at the dairy in Burträsk.

Throughout the duration of the project, a significant number of samples were collected.

– We can observe variations between the periods in terms of feed, barn environment, and potentially in the milk as well. However, we are still in the process of analyzing these samples to determine the extent of these differences and their impact on the cheese, says Eliasson.

"But we cannot yet determine whether it is the bacterial flora or something else that has caused this difference," says Thomas Eliasson, industrial doctoral student at SLU and Norrmejerier.

The cheeses were then aged, and in early 2023, it was time for a tasting session.

– You could definitely sense a difference between the cheeses from the different periods. Now, as an amateur who typically enjoys Herrgårdsost, even I could perceive the distinction, says Eliasson.

There were also more experienced tasters present, and everyone detected variations among the cheeses.

– However, we cannot yet determine whether it is the microbial flora or something else that has caused these differences. I believe it could be a combination of both the feed itself and the bacteria that eventually end up in the cheese, adds Thomas Eliasson.

He is currently in the process of analyzing all the data.

– Within a year, we hope to have substantial findings. Hopefully, we have been focusing on the right aspects, he concludes.

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