Author Topic: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures  (Read 2610 times)

Offline linuxboy

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Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« on: June 19, 2012, 07:59:42 AM »
I've seen discussion and usage of adjunct cultures increase dramatically over the past couple of years and am curious what everyone thinks about this.

For those who don't know, more and more cheeses are being made with specific selection of starters to influence flavor. This started largely due to research done for how to influence cheddar ripening and flavor formation. It's led to the development of adjuncted cheddars like Beecher's, WSU's Cougar Gold, and Cabot, to name a few. Recently Cook's Illustrated did a taste test (July 2012 issue) where they interview Dean Sommer to get the scoop on adjunct uses, and talk openly about the use of NSLAB such as l helveticus and l plantarum for flavor, texture, and aroma formation.

I see this as a somewhat troubling trend. On the one hand, creating unique flavors that are part of a signature cheese sometimes requires creativity and using culture cocktails. On the other hand, it can go too far, such as 2-yr-old flavor in a 3-month cheese. I've had some awful cheese from very well known and award-winning makers who were not judicious in their formulations. Overall, I feel like milk should speak for itself and artisan cheesemakers ought to make effort to reflect a taste of place. Instead, many are working with culture houses to create proprietary blends and are productizing starters in order to create new products tailored to consumer preferences. In many ways, this wizardry crosses the line for what constitutes traditional practice, and provides shortcuts to really having to master cheesecraft.

Thoughts? I know I've been a proponent of sensible adjunct use here, and remain so, as a way to help smaller producers create niche products and solve specific issues, such as bitterness.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2012, 08:11:00 AM by linuxboy »
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Offline Boofer

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2012, 08:19:23 AM »
Sorry, Pav, I'm a little obtuse. Can you speak a little more in layman language what you are talking about with adjunct use?

I know you have expressed opinion in the past about the hazards of "kitchen sink" culture mixes that include just about everything.  Is that what you are referring to here? I, myself, have tried to pay attention to your guidance and only steer a rind or paste development as much as was needed. You have stressed the importance of quality milk to achieve a quality end product. To that end, I was fortunate to be able to locate an ideal source each of raw and creamline milk.

My desire has been to protect the cheese while it develops and to give it a little assist to reach its optimum flavor profile. One of my goals is to make it possible for the cheese to develop greatness in its own time. If it takes a year to get there, then it gets a year in the cave environment with no rush to cut.

Perhaps I'm missing your point....

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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2012, 08:31:10 AM »
Well it's like this...  we started in cheesecraft as people who needed to preserve milk. And depending on the locale and needs, developed many stylistic approaches using whatever native starters and flora existed. This slow approach has fostered a more natural sort of selection where strains evolve and change with human practices. In this approach, flavor is something that comes about due to the interaction of people, animals, milk, and the environment. Now, it's different. Now, anyone with enough money can go and create a specific flavor and texture profile in a cheese, or create low-fat cheese, or reduced sodium, or use modified proteins in place of fat, etc.

And here in the US, this trend adoption has accelerated to where anyone can pay $20 and get pure strains to use in a cheese, opting to focus on culture selection to achieve flavor instead of focusing on the traditions of heritage approaches. If you go to VIAC and take their courses, for example, there's a day dedicated to adjuncts. This year at ACS, there's a session on adjuncts. It's very much mainstream and it wasn't a few years ago.

It's partly kitchen sink, yes. For me, it comes down to that the practice of farmstead or small scale production used to be really unique. It took real ingenuity and hard discoveries. Now, there's this trend of taking that practice and re-commercializing it through shortcuts like designer cultures.

I'm not so much talking about home cheesemakers who have inherent limitations, starting with milk sourcing, but with industry folks who are IMHO not necessarily producing cheese art born out of suffering and overcoming struggle. If you're familiar with Robert Parker and wine, it's like the cheese version of Parkerization.
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2012, 08:51:22 AM »
For you specifically, Boofer, your makes seem very much in line with respecting our local WA environment. You're using really some of the best milk in our area (Pride & Joy, and others), and are otherwise rather minimalist in your approaches to where you try and fit what you want to do to the milk, and not try and make the milk do something it doesn't want. For home use, I think it's fun to be able to spend a little money and experiment with flavor variations and styles. I'm not against technology.
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Offline dthelmers

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2012, 11:46:14 AM »
Linuxboy,
Perhaps this trend is inevitable because of the centralization of production? As a production engineer, I have to admire the use of science to maximize production, minimize costs, and shorten production time. As a hobbyist, I'm horrified by some of the practices I see, particularly filtering the milk rather than making curd, and all the other science and technology used to make an acceptable but but unimpressive uniform product. But it sells. It sells sometimes because there is nothing else readily available; other times because cost is the most important factor to the consumer. Perhaps it sell because consumers have tasted nothing better and don't realize what they are giving up for several dollars a pound price difference.
But there seem to be more and more artisan cheese success stories, like Sailor's creamery, who thrive even against competition with huge marketing aparati and the power of bulk purchasing.
Perhaps the use of all these adjuncts and such is a response to a public more and more familiar with the nuances of artisanal product?
Dave in CT


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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2012, 11:59:20 AM »
To be fair, designer cultures can make some amazing cheese. That's why they're used in the first place. Same for adjuncts, they can be used for specific targeted applications. It's like when winemaking... when in doubt, add some opti-red, get better results. And not to belabor the point, but in winemaking, various enzymes and extractions were only available to large buyers for many years, though now anyone may buy them. The same thing is happening in cheese. Before, it took a small army of researchers to select specific strains for cheese. Tillamook in OR, for example, took 3 months of painstaking strain selection to arrive at their current cocktail and rotation.

Where I am conflicted is that now very small producers have started using this approach. It does have benefits... consistency, faster ripening, more cheesy flavors, etc. But if you look at Europe, the really great small farmstead cheeses reflect some sense of terroir. And I feel like our US artisans are taking the easy way out. That while they have an opportunity to build their own traditions (say, like Red Hawk), many are opting for an easier route. It's this trend that concerns me. Artisan production to me ought to entail some higher standard, and I wonder is using so many blends and packets is consistent with that philosophy.
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Offline Tomer1

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2012, 02:48:13 PM »
There are wine yeast (and protocols) selected exclusivly for the production of NZ style grapefruit-catpee SB so its not much different.
Sure you can make just plain interesting unique wine, but the public knows THAT flavor and wants it.
Same with cheese I suppose. they want THAT flavor, no matter what it takes to achive it - Preferably cheaply.

I avoid extraction enzymes in winemaking, and stick to just plain pectolyc enzyme preperation for white wine clearification.   Wine is not getting any cheaper, espacially the high end stuff - so why mess with a good thing? just because you can?
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2012, 03:06:28 PM »
I see your point, Tomer. I do think there is some middle ground. Even pectin enzymes are manufactured, so on the continuum of no technology to extreme technology, it falls somewhere on the minimalist end.

I suppose so long as there is a market, someone will try to produce product to fill demand, and all that. It's a slippery slope, though, when what should be handcrafted becomes a miniature version of a large operation. At that rate, what's the real advantage or benefit for the consumer to support smaller scale enterprise and pay more for it?
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Offline Tomer1

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2012, 04:48:45 PM »
Yeah. It just becomes a small scale industrial production and then you might ask - why should they stay afloat (often demending higher prices) when they have nothing unique to offer against the large commerical cheese plants?

This is where AOC type laws can come handy in traditional cheeses, compressing technology into reasonable boundaries while still maintaining the production modern and somewhat efficient.
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Offline Yianni Doulis

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2012, 08:22:32 AM »
Hi Linuxboy,

Coming late to this discussion, but thought I'd throw my opinion into the mix. I'm a brand new cheesemaker in Oregon, and as I switch to commercial production from home and kitchen making, I've had to switch to pasteurizing my milk (longer story here). Especially with my aged cheeses this has thrown off rind and paste development, turning what I thought was a good cheese heading toward great into a stable, consistent, and boring snack. I'm now trying to trouble shoot and think the diversity of flora is key to that. This is where adjunct cultures comes in. I think they absolutely have a place in recreating the ecology of bacteria, yeasts and moulds that I used to get for free, and if I have to pay for them or get some advice from the people who make them, how is that an easy way out?

Of course there's an aspect of respecting the milk and what it has to offer, rather than shoving it into a predetermined mould (shaped like the kitchen sink?) But I don't think I'm the only one who for various reasons is negotiating between sanitation and regulatory concerns on the one hand and what the mouth and nose say on the other. Thoughts?

Yianni


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Offline bbracken677

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2012, 09:27:30 AM »
Very interesting discussion that applies to our society as a whole. Where do you draw the line between craftsmanship and standardization (old fashioned values vs the scientific approach)  (that may not be a correct way of stating it..) ?

Similar discussions are held regarding genetically modified foods. Seems that most "advances" are double edged swords. Consider the average store bought tomato. Used to be you could get good tomatoes at a grocery regularly...now it's once in a blue moon. Reason? Because someone figured out how to manipulate genes in a way that caused the tomatoes to ripen evenly...ie: used to be tomatoes might have a greenish area around the stem...now not. They discovered recently that the genetic alteration not only caused even ripening but also...took away flavor!!

Now cheese is mass produced to standardized product/procedures/materials which in some ways is a good thing, but in others not so good. It seems (to me) that standardization results in a standard average product and procedures which do not often lend themselves to excellence. I have some experience with regard to a company's standardization of procedures which, while helping the poorer producing facilities, in fact, hurt the higher performing plants. Planned mediocrity.

How does this apply to adjuncts? I suppose I am thinking that there is a double edged sword here as well. On the one hand, it allows for more options to "tailor-make" your cheese to results you want, but on the other hand I rue the day when craftsmanship is totally removed from our society. I am sure there are other negatives, but in my case I just do not have the knowledge to know what those are.

Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2012, 09:42:17 AM »
Hi Yianni and welcome :)

Quote
and think the diversity of flora is key to that. This is where adjunct cultures comes in. I think they absolutely have a place in recreating the ecology of bacteria, yeasts and moulds that I used to get for free, and if I have to pay for them or get some advice from the people who make them, how is that an easy way out?

My thought here is that in the US, there has been a false dichotomy that has been perpetuated. The dichotomy is this: I can use raw milk to create exceptional diversity, but if I pasteurize, then the only reasonable option is to rely on the culture industry to give me solutions. It's an easy way out because all it costs is a little money and time. Heritage and artisan techniques and cheeses exist because they were invented out of necessity, or out of having to adapt to the environment to make food fit the locale. With an easy way out, it's much more difficult to truly practice the craft in a way that encourages a taste of place, and microbial diversity.

In the example you brought up, there are other options for pasteurized milk producers who want to keep a taste of place. For example, one might isolate indigenous strains, as other cheesemakers have done without relying on industry. Or one might encourage practices that let local NSLAB, yeasts, and molds predominate, even with a proper sanitation schedule. Or one might adjust the cheese affinage to encourage local diversity (as happens, for example in cheeses like Red Hawk, Winnimere, etc).

I guess my overall point is that as smaller producers, it is fully possible for us to preserve and maintain heritage practices, without that much extra effort or money, but that is rarely being done. And instead, we have a microbial monoculture in starters and adjuncts. Even when it comes to purchased ones, most of what I see are the same Danisco, Hansen, and Cargill products, instead of niche items from smaller culture houses such as Agroscope, Dalton, Sacco, Standa, etc. So even when we can take a more interesting, "harder",  easy way out, most do not.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 09:50:21 AM by linuxboy »
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2012, 09:49:56 AM »
Quote

How does this apply to adjuncts? I suppose I am thinking that there is a double edged sword here as well. On the one hand, it allows for more options to "tailor-make" your cheese to results you want, but on the other hand I rue the day when craftsmanship is totally removed from our society.
I see it like this... any craft, any act of creation may be abstracted, documented into its major and minor components, and made into a process that creates a similar end product. And the more standardization we have, the less human involvement it takes, until, with food, instead of a farmer having intimate knowledge of food and making that, we start obtaining a commodity. That is the decision each cheesemaker makes philosophically: how to practice the craft. It may be done in a process-driven way that celebrates human ingenuity to create separation between the creator-cheesemaker and the creation-cheese. Or it may be done in a way that celebrates an equal human potential to be involved intimately in one's farms, one locale, one's neighbors, and one's food. By and large, commercial adjuncts incline one's attention to the former... to the technical, commodity-based perspective, the outcome of which may remove some sacredness and connectedness from our lives.
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Offline Alpkäserei

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #13 on: October 26, 2012, 10:16:16 PM »
Here is where a little-used, but I believe extremely useful technique excels; the whey culture.

Using a whey culture, you can establish a local flora cheese pretty easily, even if you proceed to use pasteurized milk for your commercial cheeses. The solution: make a batch with raw milk, establish the diverse culture, and then those strains will be introduced into future batches of sterilized cheese. Simple, but it takes work to maintain a whey culture. You have to constantly be testing your culture, taking care of it, preserving it, incubating it, backing it up in case of failure, and making sure it is of the proper acidity when you put it in your cheese. It's just not as easy as measuring out a little powder.

The cheeses I make use no microbial adjuncts whatsoever. I do not add any ripening ingredients other than the basic culture. I do not rub it down with b. linens or whatever. I allow the local, natural things to grow, but wash the cheese in such a way as to cause favourable things to grow. The result is I have b. linen rinds, even though I have never bought any b. linen cultures.

Really, I think everyone should learn about cheesemaking in a traditional light, if they are serious about it. So many people all they know is the danisco powders, or what have you. I have never purchased a commercial culture, and don't intend to. I decided when setting out to make my cheeses that I was going to get my hands on the real, traditional thing, and continue to make my cultures in the old style. But before it got here, I made cheeses using yogurts and found that through careful manipulation of a Greek style yogurt, you actually wind up with a genuine, full fledged alpine flavor in your cheese.

I think passing on a whey culture has such a tremendous effect on the character of your cheese -it is not something that I think can be replicated with commercial powdered starters, even if you mix a bunch together with ripeners, molds, and all that crazy nonsense. You may be able to come up with something impressive doing that, but I think the results of doing it the old way just can't be beat.

But then again, I am Swiss after all, so I'm bound to think that the old way has to be the right way.
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Offline linuxboy

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Re: Industry trend discussion: adjunct and designer cultures
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2013, 02:41:23 PM »
BTW, I will be covering many aspects of this discussion in Madison this year at a session of the ACS conference if anyone wants to chat more.
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