Cheese Community

Image of cheese.

It’s more than a cheese platter – it’s a COMMUNITY! 

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Ever step into a fancy cheese shop? The smells, the flavors – and for some of us, the funkier, the better!! But, leave the brie out too long and that tasty treat turns bland and rubbery. What gives? Surprise – it’s SCIENCE!

Benjamin Wolfe and a team from Tufts University think they know what’s up. As cheese ripens, fungi create gases that we can smell… but bacteria can EAT. The fungi-bacteria combo changes the gases — and therefore, the flavor. 

Wolfe exposed five types of cheese fungi to sixteen types of bacteria. Bacteria that had less picky appetites fared better than those that didn’t. They easily ate gases made by the fungi. And the more gases consumed, the FUNKIER the flavor! 

Like human communities, these “cheese communities” are shaped by who lives in them. Knowing what bacteria thrive in our cheese is essential to the taste. The researchers hope this will improve how cheese is made and stored around the world.

Community matters! Remember that for the next neighborhood potluck. 

Reference: Cosetta, C. M., Kfoury, N., Robbat, A., & Wolfe, B. E. (2020). Fungal volatiles mediate cheese rind microbiome assembly. Environmental microbiology, 22(11), 4745–4760.