Edible Ecosystems

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Science  26 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5568, pp. 621
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5568.621c

Many of us know that cheese is the product of microbial fermentation, but few appreciate that we're eating a dynamic ecosystem. Each cheese has its own complex suite of microorganisms, whose industry contributes to the distinctive flavors and textures of artisanal cheeses so beloved by gourmands. But traditional cheeses can be nonuniform and potentially hazardous, harboring malign species such as Listeria monocytogenes.

Randazzo et al. have examined the succession of microbes growing in Sicilian Ragusano cheese (a pasta filata cheese like Italian mozzarella and Romanian caşcaval). The raw milk contained microbes originating from the cows and the local environment; these were largely eliminated by cooking the curd, except for Streptococcus thermophilus, which subsequently performed the lactic fermentation. Thermophilic lactobacilli flourished during cheese ripening, with enterococci appearing in increasing numbers. After 15 to 30 days, the cheese community had apparently stabilized. This profile could be used not only for safety and quality assessment, but also for the controlled production of full-bodied products, acceptable to the fussiest of cheese lovers.—CA

Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 68, 1882 (2002).

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