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Electronic nose identifies world's smelliest cheese


A new study of the world's smelliest cheeses suggests that electronic nose technology could be a useful tool for quality control and authenticity testing in the future.

According to researchers at Cranfield University, Vieux Boulogne, a soft, firm French cheese made from cow's milk and matured by washing with beer, is the world's smelliest cheese according to scientists.

The artisan-made cheese was tested for its smell along with other known pungent cheeses by Cranfield University on behalf of Fine Cheeses from France.

Dr Stephen White, senior research officer Cranfield University led the study by using an electronic nose as well as a human olfactory panel to sniff out those with the strongest scent.

Fifteen cheeses were selected with the help of cheese experts in France and the UK and put through the smelly stakes. "The results suggest that electronic nose technology could be a useful tool for cheese characterisation, quality control and authenticity testing in the future," said White.

"The smelliest cheeses were washed rind cheeses. There was no obvious correlation between the age of the selected cheeses and smelliness, nor type of milk origin, although cows' milk cheeses did dominate the smell chart."

Cheeses whose rinds are washed (in a salt water solution, beer or brandy) were rated smelliest. Following Vieux Boulogne was Pont l'Evêque, which also features a washed rind cheeses, produced from the milk of cows raised in Normandy.

"The group of washed rind cheeses, originating in northern France have a reputation for their strong smell which results from the milk enzymes reacting to the brine or alcoholic solution which is brushed onto their surface during the cheese making process," said Patricia Michelson, owner of UK-based cheese retailer La Fromagerie.

Camembert de Normandie, the most widely imitated cheese in the world, was rated third. It has a natural rind and is best known for its creamy texture and mushroomy aroma. Hard cheeses were found to be least smelly of all. Goat's cheese, English Farmhouse Cheddar, Ossau Iraty, Raclette and Parmesan took the bottom five places in the smell league.

Increasing use of the electronic nose in food production complements other scientific developments that successfully mimic human senses. ICI-owned flavour firm Quest International for example recently worked with Netherlands-based NIZO food research to develop an artificial throat that mimics the way humans taste.

The scientists behind the project are confident that the device could help the food industry to reduce development costs. Slicing out the panel of human tasters, their findings are set to save food and beverage makers both time and money, equating to a competitive turnaround to market.

The artificial throat process uses glass tubes and a segment of rubber tubing controlled with a clamp. A test liquid is put into the top tube, the clamp is then opened allowing the liquid to coat the tube. Air is then passed up the tube, acting as the human breath.

"This technology can help us understand why that first breath matters so much and how individual differences in swallowing physiology contribute to taste perception," comments lead researcher Alexandra Boelrijk at NIZO food research, who worked very closely with Quest on the €2.5 million ICI-funded project.

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